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Both annulments and divorces operate to terminate the bonds of marriage between two people, but they’re entirely different proceedings that are based on two different legal theories. A divorce proceeding dissolves the bonds of matrimony of a valid and legally recognized marriage. An annulment operates to declare that a marriage never existed. Some people just don’t believe in divorce and opt for seeking an annulment. Others might have religious issues that prompt them to seek an annulment rather than a divorce.
Grounds for annulment
Since annulments treat marriages as if they never existed, grounds are ordinarily required. Those grounds might include:
- Fraud or misrepresentation that involves a material fact
- Concealment of a material fact
- A misunderstanding on wanting to have children
- Lack of legal capacity to consent to getting married
- One of the parties was still legally married when the marriage took place
- The person seeking the annulment was under 18 at the time of the marriage
The statute of limitations
In some states, annulment grounds could have a statute of limitations within which the case must be filed. Those might be seen in annulment cases involving:
- A marriage involving a party who was under the age of 18
- After the discovery of concealment of a material fact
- After a misunderstanding on wanting to have children
- When a party was forced to consent to a marriage
Annulment when children are involved
Annulment of a marriage doesn’t interfere with the legal paternity of children who were born of the marriage. The judge in the annulment proceeding can be asked to declare their paternity. He or she can also enter appropriate orders on custody, child support and visitation. In most states though, a judge isn’t permitted to rule on property division or spousal support.
When a judgment for dissolution of marriage is entered, a court has legal authority to act on matters of property and spousal support along with child custody, child support and visitation. It operates as a more thorough proceeding, and in most states, grounds are no longer required. There need only be an agreement to the effect that irreconcilable differences have caused an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. A party to a marriage can also file for a divorce at any time without regard to a statute of limitations.
The general public has many misunderstandings regarding the law of annulments. They’re not always legally available, and time limits for filing might apply. Annulment law is also different in every state. You’ll need to talk to an experienced family law attorney in your state for advice on the legal grounds and consequences of an annulment. Unless you have uncompromising religious beliefs against divorce, obtaining a judgment for dissolution of marriage is likely the better option. All matters in connection with the marriage can be addressed and ruled upon.