What’s the difference between a divorce and an annulment?
I often have a potential client call me and say that he or she wants a marriage annulment. Often the request is based on confusion about the differences between an annulment and a divorce. The differences are profound and I will attempt to lay them out here.
Dissolution of Marriage
First, a divorce is a dissolution of a marriage. In other words, we take a marriage that existed and terminate it. We speak in terms of “length of the marriage” being the period between the date of marriage and the date of separation. To get a divorce in California, a person must have lived within the State of California for six months and the county of residence for at least three months before filing. There is also a six-month waiting period from when the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is served before the divorce can be granted. With divorce come the issues of spousal support (or alimony) and division of community property.
In contrast, if the court grants an annulment (or nullity), it is as if the marriage never existed. Crucially, a person does not need to meet the residency requirements. There is no six-month waiting period before the annulment is granted. Because the marriage never technically existed, issues of spousal support and community property typically (with some exceptions that I won’t get into here) fall by the wayside.
There are strict requirements for getting an annulment in California.
To get an annulment in California, the Court requires that there are specific “grounds”. The available grounds for a nullity are:
- The marriage was incestuous. (Cal. Fam. § 2200);
- The marriage was bigamous (Cal. Fam. § 2201);
- One of the parties was below the age of consent at the time of marriage (Cal. Fam. §2210(a));
- One of the parties had a prior existing marriage to another person believed to be dead, but isn’t (Cal. Fam. §2210(b));
- A party was of unsound mind at the time of marriage (Cal. Fam. §2210(c));
- A party obtained the consent marry by fraud (Cal. Fam. §2210(d);
- A party obtained the consent to marry by force (Cal. Fam. §2210(e); or
- Either party was, at the time of marriage, physically incapable of entering into the marriage state, and that incapacity continues and appears to be incurable. (Cal. Fam. §2210(f)).
A party seeking an annulment must prove that one of the above grounds is met. Otherwise, the court won’t grant the nullity and the party will need to seek a divorce.