Divorce, Annulment: What’s the Difference?
States Can Allow Pam Anderson’s Marriage — or Yours — to Be Annulled
Wish your marriage had never existed? Former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson has decided to pursue that option against husband Rick Salomon, citing fraud, though she did not provide any details for the charge.
Anderson filed for a divorce two months ago, but now has changed her mind and wants an annulment. And if a judge agrees, Anderson can simply act like the marriage to Salomon, who starred in a sex tape with Paris Hilton, never took place.
Depending on the circumstances of your union, you might be able to do the same.All 50 states offer married couples the option of an annulment depending on the facts surrounding their relationship. “Annulment” does mean you were never married. In fact, New Jersey calls it ‘an action for nullity,’ meaning that you are essentially nullifying the marriage. “It’s null and void. It never existed,” New Jersey-based family law attorney Mark S. Guralnick said.
In contrast, a divorce indicates a marriage did exist, but fell apart. According to Guralnick, most people mistakenly assume a divorce and an annulment are essentially synonymous. That, however, is not true.
“In a divorce, the spouses are entitled to make claims for alimony, spousal support or maintenance and to divide the property they acquired during their marriage (pursuant to the community property or equitable distribution laws of that state),” Guralnick said. “If they were married, they may be entitled to certain tax, insurance, and social security benefits.”
“In the case of an annulment, with some exceptions, the spouses lose certain rights. If the marriage was annulled, and thus never existed, then there is no right to alimony or support, no right to division of property acquired during the marriage,” Guralnick said. “You walk away with whatever you brought to the marriage.”
Guralnick said that even though an annulment erases the union and prohibits the spouses from claiming property division or financial support, the court will still enforce its generally equity jurisdiction.
“For example, if Betty and Bill sign a one-year lease on an apartment which they begin occupying as newlyweds, and then the marriage is annulled because Betty failed to disclose that she’s infertile and Bill thought they would have kids together, then neither party can claim the typical divorce rights, such as alimony and equitable distribution of property,” Guralnick said.
“However, the court will probably “equitably” make them both divide the responsibility for the lease and work out some other equitable arrangement based on who continues occupying the apartment. If they have children together, they’ll still be dealing with the issues of custody, visitation, child support and health insurance for the kids, regardless of whether Betty and Bill were ever married, or whether their marriage was annulled or they were divorced.”
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN ANNULMENT
According to Guralnick, newly married couples looking to end their marriage are more likely to seek an annulment. “Getting an annulment usually involves newer marriages, and often the procedure is quicker, but not in every case,” he said. “A person who is married for 20 years to a man who forgot to divorce his first wife is probably entitled to an annulment of the second marriage, irrespective of the passage of time.”
Grounds for annulment vary by state, however, some of the common grounds for an annulment include:
1. Bigamy — Being married to more than one person at the same time.
2. Failure to consummate the marriage or impotence or other such problems preventing consummation.
3. Married under the influence of drugs or alcohol or some mental disability.
4. Too young to get married or some other statutory deficiency.
5. Fraud or fraudulent inducement.
Guralnick cited several situations that are deemed grounds for annulment. “One of my annulment cases involved a Pennsylvania woman who answered the door one day to find federal marshals with a warrant for her husband’s arrest. It turns out he was a fugitive who had escaped from a New Mexico prison and conveniently forgot to mention it to his wife. She filed for annulment on the theory that the entire marriage was induced by the fraudulent concealment of his fugitive status.”
“Another case involved a New Jersey man who wanted to have children and raise a family. A year after marrying the woman of his dreams, it became obvious to him that she would never agree to bear his children. He filed for annulment, again based on a fraudulent misrepresentation that induced him to marry her.”
Wishart, who penned a do it yourself kit on how to file for an annulment in Washington, said, “Couples who file for an annulment in the state actually file a petition for invalidity, meaning the marriage never existed.” According to Wishart, one of the compelling reasons her clients opt for an annulment versus a divorce has to do with the legal process. “Every annulment I have done, compared to divorces, have all gone through,” Wishart said. “It’s very simple.”
“In the state of Washington,” Wishart said, “couples seeking a divorce are subjected to a 90-day waiting period. In comparison, spouses filing a petition of invalidity have a much faster turn-around. If both people are signing, it takes 10 days, two weeks at the most. There is no waiting period for an annulment.”
To get a do-it-yourself annulment through the website, Wishart said the cost is $145 if the couple is filing without children, or $195 with children. There is also a $250 filing fee charged by the state. “Divorces entail the same fees as annulments,” she said.
While most of Wishart’s annulment clients are typically newly married couples, she did say some of her customers have been married for years and come in with a mission to erase their marriage. Lastly, Wishart said that do-it-yourself annulments only work out when both couples agree to the petition.
“If one person is not available, doesn’t want to sign, they can still go through the process, but the other party will be given notice. If they object, then we are done,” Wishart said, adding at that point the spouses must retain lawyers to move forward with their legal matters.
Wishart and Guralnick are also quick to point out the differences in legal and religious annulments. “Don’t confuse a legal annulment with a religious annulment. The church annuls marriages, and some people abide by that procedure, but it has not legal effect whatsoever,” Guralnick said.
“Only a state can marry you and only a state can end that marriage, one way or the other. You can be divorced under state law, and then submit to an annulment in the Catholic Church. Legally speaking, you were divorced, not annulled. The religious event has no legal meaning whatsoever.”
Wishart, who is not Catholic, said she has associates who practice the religion and understands that matrimonial annulments in the Catholic Church are hard to achieve. And the Catholic Church isn’t the only religious organization that permits annulments.
According to Guralnick, if a couple is Jewish, they can request a Get, also not an easy process and also not legally binding. You may need to get a Get if you’re Jewish, but until the state divorces you or annuls you, you’re still married.”
About the author: Casey Clark Ney is a freelance journalist based in Boise, Idaho. She holds a B.A. in Communication. Her website can be viewed at www.CaseyClarkNey.com. E-mail correspondence can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.