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Definition of Marriage Annulment

By Barb Nefer ; Updated June 13, 2017

Three ways to end a marriage include divorce, annulment and separation. Divorce, which is the most common, legally dissolves the union and restores the partners to single status. Some couples opt for separation, remaining legally married while they pursue separate lives. Annulment is is less common but is preferable to some people for religious or personal reasons.


The Expert Law legal advice website defines annulment as a way of ending a marriage by ruling it was invalid from the start. Legally it declares that the marriage never existed, even if the two people involved went through the marital process and lived together as husband and wife.


Expert Law explains an annulment might be granted for several reasons. The most common include being forced to marry someone or being under the legal age. You may also get an annulment if you did not have the mental ability to consent to marriage, if you married a close blood relative or if you were induced into the union under fraudulent circumstances. An annulment can also be granted if you discover your spouse was married to someone else when he married you. Some states automatically consider the second union void under these circumstances so you would not need the annulment if you reside in one of them. The Woman's Divorce website cites the inability to consummate a marriage as another valid reason for annulment.

Time Frame

The time frame is not set in which you can get an annulment. It can be shortly after a marriage or many years later. The effect is the same no matter when it happens. It still renders the marriage void as though it never occurred. This is true even if you had children and accumulated property during the marriage. However, Expert Law warns many jurisdictions don't like to give annulments to couples with children.


Annulment has some important differences from separation and divorce. They are all legal actions, but a separated couple remains legally married even though they may have totally separate lives. The court usually determines child support and property distribution, and that agreement can be carried forward if the couple eventually divorces. They cannot get remarried unless they do that. A divorce legally dissolves the marriage, returning both people to single status and freeing them to remarry if they wish. Legally the marriage did exist, but it is over and the court oversees the resolution with children and assets. An annulment legally erases the marriage from existence.


Expert Law warns annulment usually prevents you from getting alimony or marital property because technically you were not married. Divorce may be a smarter move if you feel you deserve spousal support or accumulated many assets during the marriage.


Some churches grant religious annulments, which are different than legal annulments. A religious annulment means the marriage did not exist in the eyes of the church. You can sometimes get a religious annulment even if your marriage legally ended in divorce. A church-based annulment has no legal standing, the 211 help site advises. It is usually done to allow you to remarry in good standing with your religion.

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