Many people use the words annulment and divorce interchangeably.  However, the two have very different meanings and implications. 

Annulment v. Divorce

            A divorce dissolves a legally valid marriage, whereas an annulment is a legal declaration by the court that the marriage never existed and that the marriage is void.

What Types of Marriages are Void?

            The following marriages are void, or not legally recognized from the start, and therefore will qualify for an annulment: 1) a marriage to someone who is already married and 2) a marriage to a close relative. 

What Types of Marriages are Voidable?

            A voidable marriage is legally valid unless one of the spouses files for an annulment in the court.  The court will consider an annulment if, at the time of the marriage, one of the spouses: 1) was physically or mentally incompetent, 2) consented to the marriage under condition of fraud or duress, 3) was a felon or prostitute without the other spouse’s knowledge, 4) was impotent, 5) was pregnant by another man without the other spouse’s knowledge, 6) fathered a child by another woman within 10 months of the marriage. 

Time Limitations for an Annulment

            The court will not grant an annulment to the couple if the spouses continue to live together after any of the “voidable” circumstances are discovered.  Additionally, if you have lived with your spouse for two years or more before filing a petition for annulment, you will be required to file for divorce. 

Effects of Annulment

            Whether the court grants a divorce or annulment can significantly affect your post-marriage property and support rights.  In an annulment proceeding, the court has no authority to make an equitable property distribution or spousal support award.  However, the court can rule on child custody and child support in an annulment proceeding, even if the marriage is decreed void. 

Figuring out the difference between divorce proceedings and annulment proceedings can be difficult.  Contact the attorneys at Smith Strong at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298 to determine which marriage dissolution method would be right for you.

H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg