I am often asked, “What is the difference between annulling a marriage and divorce?” Or, asked “Can’t I just get my marriage annulled? We were married for a short period?”
An annulment of marriage can only be requested based on one of the reasons below. If you are seeking a nullity of marriage or nullity of a domestic partnership, you will need to prove in a court hearing that your marriage satisfies one of the grounds. One of the grounds must have applied at the time you and your spouse married or you and your partner registered:
- Incest: Spouses or registered partners are close blood relatives.
- Bigamy: A spouse or partner was knowingly married or registered to another person at the time of marriage or at the time of registration of domestic partnership.
- Underage: A spouse or partner was below age 18 years at the time of marriage or registration of domestic partnership and did not obtain parental consent or a court order permitting the marriage.
- Prior Existing Marriage or Prior Existing Domestic Partnership: A spouse married or a partner registered on the mistaken belief that his or her previous marriage or partnership had ended in the death of the other spouse or partner, who in fact was still living.
- Unsound Mind: A spouse or partner could not and has not formed the intent to marry or registered due to a mental condition.
- Fraud: Deception regarding a significant matter that led to the marriage or the partnership and continued until the breakup.
- Force: Threats or acts of harm were used to force one spouse or partner into the marriage or domestic partnership.
- Incapacity: A spouse or partner was and continues to be physically unable to consummate the marriage or partnership.
Often the reason people enquire about annulment is they don’t want “a marriage on their record.” Translation: It was a mistake and they don’t want to be known as a divorced person. In some cases these feelings are understandable, but usually, you are better off simply getting a divorce known in court as a marital dissolution.
The reason you are better off getting a divorce (marital dissolution) as opposed to attempting to annul the marriage is that you don’t have to prove anything about your spouse or the state of the marriage to obtain a divorce.
For dissolution of marriage or legal separation in California, there are two legal grounds. The first is irreconcilable differences, meaning the marriage or partnership cannot be saved. You don’t have to prove irreconcilable differences. You must simply state there are irreconcilable differences in your divorce papers, the marital dissolution petition. Your spouse can’t keep you in a marriage if you want out. The second grounds for divorce is that your spouse is incurably insane and while it may be true that your spouse is a kook, you have to prove it in court. Thus, it’s rarely the basis for a petition for dissolution of marriage in California.
It’s also true that there are far fewer annulments than there are divorces. Because you have to prove in court one the eight factors listed above to have your marriage annulled.