What’s the Legal Difference between Annulment and Divorce?

Divorce outcomes and consequences can be long-lasting and far-reaching. As a rule, such a principle does not fully apply to an annulment. The annulled union is considered to have never occurred. From a legal point of view, annulment is a procedure for recognizing the marriage as null and void if the plaintiff can prove certain conditions in court. Contrary to divorce, it is retroactive, which means that the annulled marriage is considered invalid from the beginning as if it never existed.

It is important to note that marriage annulment is only possible if the validity of a marital union can be questioned due to mental, physical, or legal considerations. For example, if one of the parties was mentally incapacitated at the time of the wedding, a marriage may be declared invalid. A similar outcome is possible if one of the parties was lured into a marriage by the other partner’s deceitful and false statements. Generally, a range of factors may impact a person’s mental state. As a result, this person’s consent cannot be recognized and accepted by the law.

Some other issues may also serve as grounds for annulment in Indiana, including bigamy, being underage, etc. Indeed, if one of the parties was still married to another person at the time of the marriage conclusion, this marital union is considered void. If one of the partners was a minor and did not have the necessary consent to the marriage from parents or the court, the marriage may also be annulled.

In the following sections, we will answer the question “What is an annulment?”, find out how to get an annulment in Indiana, and determine the main difference between annulment and divorce.

What Qualifies for an Annulment?

Indiana annulment laws recognize void and voidable marriages. A void marriage is deemed invalid or unlawful and does not require legal proceedings. In its turn, a voidable marriage has certain unlawful grounds and can qualify for marriage annulment in Indiana if spouses apply for it.

According to IC § 31-11-8, the marriage is void if:

  • One of the spouses was already married to another person at the time of concluding a marriage;
  • The spouses are more closely related than second cousins;
  • Their marriage is a common law marriage in Indiana contracted after January 1, 1958;
  • One of the spouses was mentally incapable at the time of concluding a marriage;
  • The marriage between Indiana residents was contracted in another state to evade Indiana law.

IC § 31-11-9 defines a marriage as voidable if one of the parties was:

  • Underage for entering into a marriage;
  • Mentally incompetent;
  • Made to get married through fraud on the part of another party.

How to Get an Annulment in Indiana?

Recognition of marriage as null and void is carried out in accordance with the rules established in IC § 31-11-10.

Lawsuits for marriage annulment are settled in a circuit or superior court that has jurisdiction over the marriage. Therefore, the couple must meet appropriate residency requirements. As stipulated in IC § 31-15-2-6, both or one spouse must have been a state resident for at least 6 months and a county resident for at least 3 months before filing a petition.

Since these actions are conducted according to the dissolution of marriage laws in Indiana outlined in IC § 31-15, the general procedure may include steps similar to those in a divorce or legal separation process, such as:

  • Filing a petition;
  • Serving a respondent;
  • Attending a hearing;
  • Getting a decree about annulment.

In the petition, you must provide all the details about you, your spouse, your marriage, and children, if any, verify your residency, and specify the grounds for annulment. It is good to clarify with the court clerk what other papers and/or documents you may need in addition to the petition. In annulment cases, due to their specifics and possible challenges, it is always reasonable to consult a lawyer.

Indiana courts accept petitions filed by guardians of persons with incapacities or under age. The rules governing such actions are outlined in IC § 29-3-9-12.2.

Besides, it is possible to file an Agreed Annulment if both parties agree to annul their marriage.

Grounds for Annulment vs. Divorce

In matters of divorce vs annulment, one of the primary differences is grounds that can be cited in either case.

As stated above, annulments have strict limitations and can only be granted under very rare circumstances. Since marriage voidability must have a serious legal foundation, the marital union can be declared null and void on limited grounds, mostly due to fraud and age or mental incapacity to get married. When filing for annulment in Indiana, time limits are not applicable; the marriage can be recognized void at any moment.

In contrast, anyone who wants to end their marital relationship can file for divorce and have their marriage dissolved if it does not work. Most petitioners file for divorce due to irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Indiana marriage laws also recognize other grounds for marriage dissolution, including:

Outcomes of Annulment and Divorce

The main difference between divorce and annulment lies in their outcomes and the final status of the marriage.

The conclusion of divorce terminates the marital union permanently while preserving its legal existence. In other words, your marriage will still be considered as one that has legally occurred but now is dissolved, rendering you and your ex-spouse single with a history of a previous marital relationship.

In its turn, annulment cancels the marriage so that the law does not acknowledge it as having ever existed. Both parties become single and able to marry and do not even bear the status of a divorced person who has been previously married.

Since the action for annulment is conducted in accordance with the regulations prescribed for divorce or legal separation, it mostly entails similar rules concerning related disputes and matters. However, there may be exceptions, depending on each individual case.

Here are some of the possible implications:

  • Expenses for both processes are mostly the same, involving filing fees, service of process fees, other possible court fees, costs for document copies or mailing, attorney fees, etc.
  • Children born in annulled marriages are still considered legitimate in most cases. Therefore, custody, parenting time, and child support issues will likely be decided based on the Indiana divorce legislature.
  • Property and debt division can be complicated and greatly depends on the situation. The court usually considers each case and decides which assets and liabilities should be divided and which should not be regarded as joint or divisible.
  • Any marital agreements a couple may have are more likely to be declared invalid since the marriage itself is illegal. So, the parties may be freed from any possible related obligations.

To summarize, annulment is not suitable for everyone. This legal protection is specifically created for people who should not have gotten married for this or that reason. Therefore, it can hardly serve as a way out of the legal repercussions of an ordinary marriage. In fact, only a small fraction of married couples are eligible for an annulment. Really strong evidence is required to prove the grounds for such an action in court.

On the other hand, annulment does not provide any substantial benefits or privileges in simple cases of a broken marriage. So, if you did not break the law when getting married and did not become a victim of such an action on the part of your spouse, divorce is a quite adequate option to terminate your relationship and settle all child- and property-related disputes the way you like it, as far as possible.

In any case, when contemplating divorce vs annulment, make sure to consider the legal grounds for the relevant action as well as your personal reasons for either option. In addition, thoroughly think through all possible outcomes and consequences for everyone involved and reasonably weigh their worth.