While annulments and divorces have the same result: dissolution of marriage; they are quite different. The main difference lies in how they treat the marriage itself. Much like a divorce, an annulment dissolves a marriage. However, an annulment serves (legally) as a declaration that the marriage did not happen, while a divorce is the ending of a validated marriage – with both parties returning to a single status.
Annulments can provide relief for couples who feel that they should not have gotten married in the first place. A civil annulment treats the marriage as though it didn't exist. Certain requirements are required to grant a civil annulment, such as:
- Concealment: This occurs if one or both people hid important, material information, such as the fact that they had children or a felony conviction.
- Fraud or Misrepresentation: This occurs if one or both spouses lie about something extremely important, such as the ability to have children, knowing that they cannot have children or that they are not married to somebody else.
- Impotency: This occurs if one person is impotent and is not curable and if the other spouse didn't know about this before getting married.
- Incest: This occurs if the two people in the marriage have close familial relations.
- Lack of Consent: This occurs if at least one of the parties does not have the mental capacity or ability to consent (think of minors), like if they were intoxicated at the time of marriage, or if they were forced into marriage (think shotgun wedding).
- Misunderstanding: This occurs if there's a misunderstanding regarding a desire to have kids.
The requirements for a religious annulment are different than those of a civil annulment. For Catholic couples, the church will grant an annulment based on factors regarding honesty, maturity, consent, motivation, capacity to be in a marriage, and emotional stability. If the diocesan tribunal grants the annulment, then both parties will be allowed to remarry in the Catholic Church.
A divorce, on the other hand, is a legal action that's taken between two people who are married in order to terminate the marriage. This is also called "dissolution of marriage." No-fault laws make it possible for either party to file for a divorce with or without a "good" reason under an "irreconcilable differences" claim.
Both annulments and divorce are taxing on the couples seeking to end their partnership. It is important to seek the counsel of a professional divorce attorney, when determining the best route for an annulment or divorce.