Are you in a bad marriage and need to get out? Is it time to move forward with your life and strive for that “happily ever after” promised in fairy tales? If you’re in a legally binding marriage, your path out is through divorce. If, however, your marriage was legally void or voidable from the outset, your road to freedom may be through annulment.

Unlike a divorce, which legally dissolves or ends a marriage, an annulment is legal recognition that a legitimate marriage never took place. Sure, there may have been a wedding ceremony, but the marriage itself was legally unsound and may be declared invalid from the beginning. If your marriage is annulled, it’s almost as if your story has been re-written.

What are the grounds for an annulment?

A marriage can be declared invalid for many reasons, all of which stem from the legal inability of one of the parties to marry. In other words, this legal inability existed at the time of the alleged marriage and rendered it void or voidable.

Under New York law, annulment of a marriage can be requested in a number of different situations, including where one of the parties was:

  • Already legally married to someone else
  • Under the age of consent to get married
  • Forced into the marriage
  • Baited into marriage by fraud
  • Compelled to marry under duress
  • Suffering from an incurable mental illness

Does your property get divided like it does in a divorce?

If you get divorced, your property, assets and debts are divided according to New York divorce law and pursuant to the agreements reached during the divorce proceedings.

In an annulment, however, you were never legally married and your property rights are protected differently. For example, your finances will not be split in the same way they would be in a divorce. This means that if you own any property, it’s yours free and clear. If you die, your estate won’t automatically go to your ex. Also, you may no longer be held accountable for your ex’s debts.

Asking a lawyer what to expect in the annulment and divorce processes – and what the potential outcomes for your story are – will help you make smart decisions about your future. If you suspect you or a loved one may have grounds to pursue an annulment, talking to a family law attorney can help you understand the options available to you. And remember, it’s never too late to move forward with your happily ever after.