You may have heard the terms “divorce” and “annulment” used interchangeably, however a divorce and an annulment are two different concepts. Understanding the difference can be helpful if you are considering separating from your spouse. This article will provide an overview of what an annulment is, how it is different from a divorce, and how annulments and divorces are treated differently in Arizona.
Divorce vs. Annulment
Most everyone has a general understanding of what a divorce is. A divorce occurs when two people who are legally married decide they no longer want that to be the case, so they decide to legally end the marriage. With a divorce, oftentimes couples need to address the custody of children as well as whether one partner will pay spousal support, also known as alimony, to the other partner. Once a divorce goes through, the law recognizes that although a marriage between the parties took place, that marriage no longer exists.
Annulments are different, however, in that once an annulment is finalized the law says that there was never actually a legal marriage between the two parties. This can be true even if the couple acted as though they were married: living together, filing taxes jointly, holding themselves out to others as married, etc. Florida recognizes two kinds of annulments: civil and religious. Civil annulments can be given by the state, while religious annulments can only be dispensed by a church or clergy member.
Civil annulments are granted by the state of Florida on the basis that the marriage was either “void” or “voidable.” The difference between the two concepts is important. “Void” marriages are those which involve incest, underage partners, bigamy, or the mental incapacitation of at least one partner. Under these circumstances, the marriage is automatically invalid, even if both parties want to remain married.
“Voidable” marriages are those which are not automatically invalid but can be deemed invalid if certain criteria are present. These criteria include marriage resulting from fraud, duress, misrepresentation, temporary mental incapacitation (such as due to drugs or alcohol), or a joke. This also includes marriage where one party is underage and married without their guardian’s consent or marriage where one partner is impotent. While these kinds of marriages can be deemed voidable, it is important to know that not every marriage where the above circumstances are present will qualify for an annulment.
Annulments differ from divorces in several important ways. Securing permanent alimony is often an option in a divorce, but is rare with an annulment. Also, with annulment, no spouse can lay claim to the other’s insurance or retirement benefits when splitting up assets. Further, with annulments, the court usually does not divide up marital property as it does with a divorce. Rather, couples and their attorneys must work the division of marital assets out on their own.
So how do you know if an annulment is right for you? Ultimately, you may need to hire a divorce attorney with experience handling annulments. They will be able to assess your situation, help you determine if an annulment is an option, and guide you through the process. At Cohen Family Law, we have extensive experience handling annulments for clients and are ready to answer your questions. Contact us today to learn more.