You found the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with and walked down the aisle, only to discover the marriage wasn’t quite what you expected. Now you can’t wait to get away.
Should you file for an annulment or a divorce? Depending on which you choose, you could end up in very different financial situations.
A divorce is the dissolution of a valid marriage. An annulment invalidates a marriage. With an annulment, it’s as if the marriage never existed.
When it comes to finances, the difference is stark. Marital property is usually divided equitably according to a judge’s determination during a divorce (unless there is a valid prenuptial agreement). Whatever assets or debts are acquired during a marriage is considered marital property, but laws about how the property is divided vary by state.
When a marriage is annulled, the courts usually try to restore each party to his or her original financial state before the marriage occurred. This means that what you brought to the marriage you will usually take away from a marriage. If a couple has accumulated some shared assets prior to an annulment, it can get a little more complicated. The division of these assets is usually handled as if two strangers bought property together. When children are involved, child support and custody agreements are handled just like a divorce.
Most marriages do not qualify for an annulment. Each state has its own requirements for a legal annulment, but there are some common grounds. Bigamy, forced consent, fraud or misrepresentation, mental incapacity or illness, underage marriage and incest are universal grounds for an annulment. When petitioning for an annulment, however, these grounds must be proven, and the other party has a right to protest.
If you are the financially weaker partner, it may be in your best interest to file for a divorce. If, on the other hand, you have substantial assets and can prove that your marriage should never have occurred, filing for an annulment can save you a lot of dough (particularly in spousal support). An annulment can also help one partner avoid liability for another partner’s significant debt. Talk to a divorce attorney about the specific circumstances of your marriage to find out which of these options will work best for you.