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Understanding the differences between divorce and annulment

22696026_S.jpgDivorce is a common procedure and usually well understood by the general public. A close relative of divorce is annulment, which many have heard of but few understand. It is far less common than divorce, and most people aren't clear on how it differs.

Before we continue, however, we need to clarify use of the term. In most states, marriages can be annulled under certain circumstances. Here in Illinois, couples can seek what's called a "judgment of invalidity," which is basically the same as an annulment. Therefore, we'll use the more common term in this post.

Divorce and annulment share one important thing in common: They both put an end to a marriage. However, when couples get divorced, they are publicly recognizing that they were in a valid marriage that did not work out (for any number of reasons). In other words, they were legally married and now they aren't.

Annulment is different, in that it invalidates a marriage. When they are granted, annulments are declarations that a former couple's marriage was never legally valid. From a legal perspective, the couple had never been married.

An annulment is not easy to obtain. It usually requires one spouse to show that they entered the marriage under false pretenses. Perhaps your spouse lied about wanting children or the ability to have children. Perhaps your spouse lied to you or withheld information that would have prevented you from marrying them in the first place.

In many cases, time is also a factor. It is typically easier to obtain an annulment after a few months of marriage than it would be after many years of marriage.

Finally, it is important to note that civil annulment (what we've been discussing today) is different from religious annulment. This is significant because many people seek annulments for religious reasons (opposition to divorce, etc.). Religious institutions have sole discretion when it comes to granting religious annulments.

According to USA Today, the Catholic Church has granted annulments to some wealthy and high-profile individuals, including Sen. Ted Kennedy. The circumstances surrounding these annulments were sometimes inconsistent with the conditions under which civil annulments are usually granted.

As we mentioned above, annulment is not an option for every couple. But even if it was, divorce has some unique benefits and protections to offer as well. In order to better understand your rights and legal options, please discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney.

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