What’s the Difference Between an Annulment and Divorce?

Divorce is the legal dissolution of a contract of marriage, and though it is certainly the path that most couples take when they want to split, it is not the only way that a marriage can be ended. Pennsylvania couples also have the option of pursuing an annulment. Rather than dissolving the marriage contract, an annulment legally proclaims the marriage to have been invalid in the first place.

Though different states have different rules about declaring a marriage void through annulment, the state of Pennsylvania only provides four valid reasons for an annulment. All of them provide an explanation for why a marriage should never have happened in the first place. Those four are:

  • One or both partners in the marriage suffered from an impaired mental state when they got married. Examples of an impaired state would be if one or both were on drugs or drunk on alcohol; were forced into the marriage or agreed to get married based on false information.
  • One or both partners in the marriage weren’t legally able to give valid consent to the marriage. Reasons for being unable to give valid consent include one or both spouses being under the age of 16. This reason for annulment must generally be provided within 60 days of the marriage having taken place.
  • Something makes the marriage illegal. Examples of what could make a marriage illegal include when one or both spouses are married to other people or if the spouses are closely related to each other (incest).
  • The marriage cannot be consummated. This typically refers to the ability to have sex, though different religions have different definitions of what consummation means.

Though some people prefer annulment for religious reasons, and annulment may make the most sense in situations where a person has entered into a marriage unwillingly or without the real ability to give consent, choosing annulment can work against an individual where there are assets to be divided or child custody to be determined. Even where annulment may be appropriate, in those cases a divorce may be a better option.

Ending a marriage is never an easy thing to do. If you need legal guidance in choosing whether an annulment or a divorce is a better fit for you, contact our experienced divorce attorneys to set up a time to discuss your situation.