What Is the Difference Between a Marriage Annulment and Divorce?

For many couples, divorce is the go-to option for ending a marriage. For some, there is another option: annulment.

However, annulment is an entirely different process from divorce. Divorce generally allows couples to end their marriage for any reason. Couples must meet much more rigid legal standards to annul their marriage.

If you're considering ending your marriage, you should understand all your choices. This article offers a broad overview of the differences between divorce and marriage annulment, allowing you to make a more informed decision.

Defining Divorce

Divorce is the legal termination of marriage. The law acknowledges that the marriage existed, it lasted for a period, then it dissolved. The union remains part of your record.

Defining Marriage Annulment

To annul something means you invalidate it. For example, a business can annul a contract. It can prove that the contract was fraudulent or otherwise unfair, and the law can cancel the terms of that contract.

Marriage annulment works the same way. When you annul your marriage, the law asserts that the marriage never legally existed.

Grounds for Divorce

In most states, it is not necessary to state a specific reason for your divorce. You can simply state that you no longer wish to be married and begin the divorce process. Legally, doing so falls into the category of “irreconcilable differences.”

Utah recognizes irreconcilable differences, meaning you can get divorced for any reason in the state.

Grounds for Marriage Annulment

Because an annulment erases the marriage from your record, it requires more rigid standards. Generally, marriage annulment is allowed when the marriage is fraudulent or otherwise illegal.

Examples of when you can get an annulment in Utah:

  • Either spouse was forced or coerced into the marriage.
  • Either spouse is already legally married to someone else.
  • The marriage is incestuous, when the spouses are first cousins or more closely related.
  • The marriage is fraudulent, if one spouse lied or hid something that directly affects the marriage relationship.
  • Either spouse was underage at the time of the marriage and did not have parental consent to enter the marriage.
  • Either spouse is incapable of or refuses physical intimacy at the time of the marriage. This is not the same as someone losing sexual ability later in life. To end a marriage in this situation, you must get a traditional divorce.
  • Either spouse was unable to consent to the marriage. This standard applies to mental or physical incapacity. Such incapacity can include mental illness, physical incapacity, cognitive disorders, or eve night fueled by drugs or alcohol.

Filing for Marriage Annulment in Utah

  1. File a petition with the court and serve it to your spouse. They have the opportunity to respond, and they could refute claims of fraud, coercion, etc.
  2. From there, you must attend a hearing to make your case, providing evidence to support your claims.
  3. If the court grants the annulment, the state will retroactively declare that your marriage was never legally valid.

This is a highly simplified list of steps, so make sure you work with a skilled attorney when filing for an annulment. Nelson, Taylor & Associates, PLLC can help walk you through this process.

The Legal Consequences of Having Your Marriage Annulled

Generally, divorce is designed to protect everyone involved in the marriage. A family is legally separating, and the state wants to make sure everyone walks away healthy.

Annulments are very different. The state is denying the existence of the marriage. From there, it treats the spouses as individuals. They may be left with no legal rights to property or assets acquired during the marriage.

Spouses are unlikely to receive any alimony in an annulment, too. The court could order some financial restitution, especially when a spouse was defrauded or coerced into the marriage. After that, however, spouses should not expect to receive any regular spousal support.

Similarly, the state will treat child support and custody very differently. It will view the parents as unmarried and legally never married. Custody and support will be treated the same as they would with any unmarried parents.

Even if the marriage was the result of unethical circumstances, you may benefit from going through with a standard divorce. Work closely with your attorney to make the best decision.

If you know it’s time to end your marriage, but you don’t know which path to take, reach out to our firm online for help. You can also reach out to us by phone at (801) 901-7046.