When separating from your partner, we recognize that every situation is different and thus requires different solutions. While quite rare, annulment could be the right course of action for your case, but what exactly is the difference between divorce and annulment?

In the most basic terms, a divorce ends a valid marriage or domestic partnership, while a legal annulment claims that a valid marriage never existed.

When people get a divorce, they are terminating a legally valid marriage and can say they were once married or in a domestic partnership (e.g. they can legally refer to one another as their ex-wife, ex-husband, etc.). A divorce does not require justification beyond unspecified “irreconcilable differences” and usually ends with equal distribution of assets among both parties. Either partner may also be eligible for some spousal support (alimony) for a set amount of time.

When filing an annulment, however, specific reasons for the separation must be cited and meet criteria established by the state. The burden of proof falls on the individual who brings the petition forward. In the state of California, reasons (each with their own statute of limitations) to get an annulment include:

  • Petitioner married or entered the domestic partnership as a minor
  • There is a prior existing marriage or domestic partnership that has not yet been properly terminated (includes, but not limited to, bygamy)
  • Inability of an individual to give proper consent at the time of marriage due to an unsound mind (e.g. temporary or permanent medical conditions, intoxication, etc.).
  • Petitioner was forced into marriage or partnership against their will
  • Physical incapacity on either side

Due to the nature of an annulment, children born to the couple during their marriage or domestic partnership also cease to legally exist. Therefore, you must also ask the judge to establish paternity for any children that resulted from the relationship. Once paternity is established, terms of custody, visitation, and child support can be decided.

Additionally, neither party can claim spousal support in an annulment. Exceptions are possible (particularly in the case of putative partners), but, in claiming that a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid, you are also saying that the legal rights associated with terminating a marriage or partnership do not apply.  Thus, the court tries to leave each party in the same position they were before the union and any assets or debt acquired during it are not equally divided.

Consult with Shulman Family Law for more information on how to approach your personal situation.