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How is annulment different from divorce?

Most marriages must go through divorce to end. But divorce is not the only way to legally dissolve a marriage. Some unhappy spouses may be able to get an annulment instead.

Under New York State law, an annulment is a process that renders a marriage null and void, back to the date it began. In other words, it is as if the marriage never happened.

As readers probably suspected, it is generally much harder to get an annulment than a divorce. The law provides several valid grounds to annul a marriage, which include:

  • Fraud
  • Underage spouse
  • Mental incapacity
  • Duress
  • Five years of incurable mental illness
  • Bigamy

Perhaps the most important difference between annulment and divorce is that the court will not consider any of the spouses’ assets to be marital property. After all, if the marriage legally never occurred, the spouses never obtained anything that could belong to them jointly. Instead of trying to figure out what each spouse is entitled to, the spouses can walk away with the property they came into the marriage with.

It may be tempting to ask your divorce attorney to press for an annulment instead of a divorce. But as the above list suggests, there usually has to be something fundamentally invalid or illegal about the marriage in order for the court to have the power to annul it. Those currently married may have a hard time convincing the judge that they wed their spouse, say, because he or she defrauded them or forced them to do so.