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Annulment vs Divorce: What’s the Difference?

annulment vs divorce

What’s the difference between divorce and annulment? After all, both are legal procedures that ultimately dissolve a marriage. Here, we dig deep into the meaning of annulment vs. divorce, discussing their similarities and differences. If you’re weighing the two proceedings against one another, it is vital that you understand what differentiates annulment vs divorce.

What is an Annulment?

An annulment voids a marriage contract. As the meaning of “annulment” suggests, the marriage contract is “null” so it’s like your wedding vows were never spoken. There are a number of reasons people seek an annulment of marriage. Among the top reasons are that they do not want the social stigma that comes with divorce in some places, or that their religious beliefs preclude divorce as an option.

Grounds And Requirements for Annulment

In order to receive an annulment you must be able to demonstrate that your marriage is invalid and should be rendered void. The top grounds for annulment include:

  • Either spouse is impotent, and the marriage could not be consummated
  • One of the spouses was still legally married to someone else when the marriage to be annulled took place
  • Either spouse was forced to marry
  • One of the spouses was not of legal age at the time of marriage
  • Either spouse lacked the mental competency to enter into a marriage contract
  • There was a “want of understanding,” i.e. either (or perhaps both) of the parties had no understanding of the legality of the marriage they were entering into. Sometimes this happens because of the influence of intoxicating substances or because of the presence of mental illness. Interestingly, Britney Spears was able to obtain an annulment for this reason.
  • Finally, there are likely legal grounds for an annulment if either spouse failed to honestly disclose personal details such as the presence of impotence, an STD, or a criminal history prior to marriage.

How to Annul a Marriage

As with divorce, the procedure for getting an annulment varies from one place to the next. In general, you will need to prove the grounds for annulment, producing witnesses and/or some other type of supporting evidence depending on the situation at hand.

What is a Divorce?

Like an annulment, a divorce is a legal proceeding that ends a marriage. The main difference between divorce and annulment is that a divorce ends a dysfunctional marriage, while an annulment legally declares that no true marriage existed.

Grounds for Divorce

Regulations covering grounds for divorce vary from one place to the next. Some examples include:

    Domestic violence
    Irreconcilable differences

In many places throughout the United States and elsewhere, divorces may be initiated without any specific grounds for divorce being cited. In cases like these, neither party is held responsible, and no justification is required. This is called a no-fault divorce.

Why Get a Divorce?

There are a few reasons to get a divorce instead of an annulment of marriage. In most places, either spouse for a reason as simple as incompatibility or the breakdown of marriage may initiate a no-fault divorce. Unless your religion specifically forbids divorce, consider it as a simpler, less stressful process that legally dissolves your marriage contract and allows you to move forward with your life.

Moving on with Life after Divorce or Annulment

Almost everyone who experiences divorce and annulment also experiences some level of psychological pain. Regret, feelings of sadness, and “what if” thoughts are common. Allow yourself time to grieve the loss of your marriage and then do everything you can to move on. Share your thoughts and feelings with people you trust, and consider joining a divorce support group to help you cope with your divorce process. If you find yourself hating the sight of things that remind you of your marriage, feel free to pass them on to others. In the case of valuables such as your wedding and/or engagement rings, consider selling them and using the funds for something you’ve always wanted.

Most people who go through an annulment or divorce eventually find their way back to happiness. It may take you a short time or several years, depending on your circumstances. Be sure to talk to others who care during times you’re feeling low. Good friends and counselors can help you get over a failed marriage faster, ultimately aiding you in the process of moving on with your life and even finding love again.


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  1. Thanks for explaining the difference between an annulment and a divorce. I have a close friend who decided (without telling anyone else) to get married. Only a few days later, she was regretting her rash decision and ended up getting her marriage annulled. I am glad that annulment was even an option for her. Thanks for the info.

  2. Nick says:

    Well written article. I had no idea that things like an STD or prior criminal history that was not disclosed could lead and be reason for an annulment. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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