Is Annulment More Complicated than Divorce?

Sometimes partners in an unhappy marriage fantasize about an entirely different life. They wish they’d never married and wish they could find a way to make the marriage disappear entirely. That is exactly what annulment does – it legally erases the marriage. But annulment is not an easy option. In fact, for most people, divorce is a far simpler choice.

In Pennsylvania, when you file for divorce you don’t negate the marriage’s existence: rather, you put an end to the legal contract. By contrast, an annulment nullifies the marriage. It essentially goes back in time and erases the whole thing. Nullification occurs when the marriage was legally void, such as when one or both partners were already married to another person, when they are blood relatives, one or both under the age of 16, incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or suffering some kind of mental defect that prevents them from being able to legally enter a contract.  Being fraudulently lured into a marriage or forced into a marriage also leads to automatic nullification.

Though annulment sounds simple, it can actually be a challenge to prove that a marriage was entered into improperly, and even if both partners want an annulment, it’s not something that you can just consent to. The legal ramifications of annulment are significant: spouses give up the right to both support and inheritance from one another, though children born of a marriage that is later annulled are still considered legitimate, and fully entitled to parental support and inheritance from both parents. The tax ramifications are also challenging, as a couple that has previously filed joint returns will be legally required to file amended returns for each submitted tax return.

It’s important to understand that there is a big difference between a legal annulment and a religious annulment, just as there is a difference between the marriage contract provided by the state and the certification provided by your religious organization. If you are a member of a denomination that offers annulments, such as the Catholic church, then you can petition your priest to see whether you can claim that the consent to marriage that you gave on your wedding date was not legitimate. But getting your marriage annulled in the church does not dissolve the legal marriage contract. The only way to accomplish that is through divorce or the more complex process of legal annulment.

If you want to end your marriage, via divorce or annulment, an experienced divorce attorney will be able to answer all of your questions. Contact us today to set up a time for a consultation.