What Is An Annulment Vs. Divorce?

Updated September 20, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Are you one of the many people that aren't happy in your marriage? Maybe you and your partner have been growing apart for a while or something has happened that you can't get past. There are several different reasons why you might be ending your marriage, but you may have questions when it comes to how you're going to separate. If you’re considering an annulment vs. divorce and aren’t sure which one is the right choice for your situation, keep reading to find more information on each and to gain more clarity.

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What Is An Annulment?

Most people who end their marriage decide to get a divorce. An annulment, however, is sometimes an option that can be considered. There are specific requirements that you need to meet to get an annulment instead of a divorce, but there are some benefits to going through those hoops.

An annulment, unlike a divorce, means that, for all intents and purposes, the marriage never actually happened. If you meet the specific qualifications that are listed, you and your partner can sign a paper that says your marriage was never valid, legal, or binding in the first place, and therefore you are both going to walk away like it never actually happened. There are specific things that have to happen for a marriage to be eligible for annulment. If you don't meet those qualifications, you must get a divorce if you want to end your relationship legally.

So, just what do you need to get an annulment? Several different things could provide cause for annulment. These include:

  • Marriage between close relatives (just how close is subject to the laws of the state you live in)
  • Mental incapacity (such as a person who doesn't understand the agreement they are entering)
  • Underage marriage (one of the parties is under the legal age to consent to marriage)
  • Duress (someone who is being pressured into the wedding when they don't want to)
  • Fraud (the marriage is being carried out to achieve some illegal means such as marrying to change someone's immigration status)
  • Bigamy (being married to someone else and going through a second marriage)

If any of these apply to you or your partner, you may have grounds for annulment. Of course, there may be more (or fewer) situations where the just cause is present depending on the specific state that you live in. If you and your partner are looking to end your relationship, you may want to look at the rules regarding annulment to find out if it is an option for you.


What Is A Divorce?

The word “divorce” often comes up when couples decide that things just aren't going to work out between them. Couples might decide to end things for a variety of reasons, and unlike an annulment, those going through divorce acknowledge that the marriage happened and that it was valid and legal—but that they no longer want to be bound to it by law. If you and your partner don't fit the qualifications for an annulment, you may have to think about a divorce instead. 

Divorce is allowed in some different situations. In most states, all you need is 'irreconcilable differences.' You tell your lawyer and the judge that you and your partner have irreconcilable differences, and they will allow you to get the divorce with nothing else needed. That's not true everywhere, however, so it can be important to know what the rules are in your state for legally ending your marriage.

In most states, you can get what is considered a 'no grounds' divorce, which requires absolutely nothing from you or your partner. If you live in a state that requires you to have an 'at fault' divorce, it means that one or both of you must have done something to cause a breakdown of the marriage. Keep in mind that some defenses can be raised if your partner does not want the divorce. This can make it a little more difficult to get a divorce and you may have to go in front of a judge. Some of the different 'at fault' causes can include:

  • Adultery
  • Cruelty
  • Abandonment
  • A mental health disorder
  • Criminal conviction
  • Substance use
  • Impotence
  • Religion

The other party can raise objections to an at-fault divorce or even to a no-fault divorce, and you may both be required to go in front of a judge to discuss ending the marriage. In some cases, the judge may require you to go through some steps to attempt to reconcile the marriage (or decide for certain that it cannot be repaired), but in most areas, divorces are granted if one party wants them, even in states that require cause for a divorce.

Are You Ready For Annulment Or Divorce?

If you're thinking about getting a divorce or annulment, it can be important to make sure you're certain about your decision. Just because you and your partner are having trouble does not mean that you must get a divorce. While some things may be automatic 'deal-breakers’ for you, other things may be possible to reconcile if you and your partner are willing to do so.

Look at what is happening in your and your partner's lives. What kind of problem do you have? Is it something that you would potentially be willing to work through? Maybe you have been fighting a lot, but you're willing to work on it if they are. Maybe you've been drifting apart, but you're interested in working with your partner to restore your marriage. Have the problems just started, or have they been going on for a long time? Looking at each of these things can help you understand just what you want to do (or don't want to do). Jumping into anything may only lead to regrets later.

Anyone who is considering an annulment or divorce may want to start by talking with their partner. Find out what each of you is feeling and thinking. Maybe your partner wasn’t aware of the problems in the relationship or wasn’t taking them seriously. It's possible you could start making changes and decide that your relationship can work out after all. Of course, it's also possible that you could talk about it and decide even more strongly that things will not work between the two of you. Speaking to a couples therapist could also prove useful during this process. Whatever you decide, it can be vital to feel confident in your decision.

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Online Counseling For Separation

Whether you and your partner are looking to make things work or have decided to call it quits, it can be important to seek professional help. Even if you are the one who decided to end the relationship or believe it was the right decision for both of you, ending a marriage can still be emotionally taxing. Regain is an online counseling platform that can connect you with a licensed therapist to help you process the situation. They can meet with you from anywhere you have an internet connection, which could be helpful for those in the middle of a divorce who still live with their spouse. With online counseling, you can message your therapist throughout the day as problems arise and you need advice or encouragement. Instead of waiting weeks to get an appointment, you can start to get support with ease and convenience. The end of a marriage can be challenging, but you don’t have to go through it alone. 

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling For Divorce

Divorce can have a harmful impact on a person’s mental health. In one study, researchers set out to see how an online intervention could assist those going through the process of divorce. After a year-long study, they found that participants experienced significantly reduced anxious, depressive, and somatization symptoms and that these outcomes were large in effect size. When researchers followed up with participants one year after their divorce, they found that their symptom levels in all three of these areas matched those in the general population. 

The Takeaway

Recognizing the difference between a divorce and an annulment can help you decide which might be appropriate for your situation. In either case, having legal guidance from an expert can help ensure the process goes more smoothly. Regardless of which option you choose, separating from your spouse can still be difficult, and it can be crucial to work through your emotions to prevent them from carrying into your future. While divorce can change many things about your life, you may find some consistency in connecting with a therapist. A therapist can provide a listening ear and offer advice as you adjust to your new normal. They can assist you for as long as you need them to as you get back on your feet and look forward to what’s next.

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