The Difference Between Divorce & Annulment

A divorce and an annulment are both ways to end a marriage in California. However, these legal processes are very different from one another, with entirely separate outcomes. If your marriage qualifies as void or voidable – meaning it was never legal to begin with – an annulment may be a better option for you than divorce.

Divorce vs. Annulment in California

A divorce or dissolution of marriage is a legal process that officially ends or terminates a legally valid marriage. When a divorce is finalized by the courts in California, the marriage is legally recognized as having existed but is now dissolved, meaning the marital relationship has ended and both parties are free to remarry.

An annulment, on the other hand, states that a marriage was never legally valid to begin with. It declares a marriage as null and void, meaning it does not exist because it never legally existed in the first place. It confirms that the marriage was invalid from the beginning due to certain legal issues, such as fraud or duress.

What Are Grounds for an Annulment in California?

An annulment will only be granted in California under very specific circumstances. To have a marriage declared as voidable, the filing party must demonstrate one or more legal grounds for the annulment, such as:

  • Bigamy: one spouse was already legally married at the time of the second “marriage”
  • Incest: the spouses are close blood relatives, such as siblings or first cousins
  • Age of consent: one or both parties were under the age of 18 and did not have a legal guardian’s consent to marry
  • Unsound mind: one spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage
  • Fraud: one spouse misrepresented a material fact, such as his or her identity
  • Duress or coercion: the marriage was a result of threats, force, intimidation or undue pressure

By contrast, a couple can qualify for a divorce in California based only on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” meaning there has been a permanent breakdown of the marriage. No one needs to prove that someone else is at fault to get divorced in California.

Legal Issues to Consider With Divorce or Annulment

While divorce and annulment are two entirely different legal processes in California, both require the couple to decide on issues such as property division, child custody and financial support. If the couple has any marital property or shared children from the marriage, these terms must be determined during the course of the divorce or annulment.

The couple will have the opportunity to decide the terms of their split on their own before the courts in California intervene. The couple can communicate and negotiate with each other, with or without help from divorce lawyers serving San Diego, California, to try to come to an agreement. Reaching a settlement can make the divorce or annulment process easier, as it can allow the couple to avoid going to court.

If an agreement cannot be made, the case will go to trial and a judge will determine the key terms. In California, marital property is typically divided in half (50/50), during a divorce case. However, with an annulment, all assets and debts acquired during the annulled marriage will typically be treated as the separate property of each spouse. With either legal process, child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child.

If you are considering a divorce or annulment to end your marriage in California, contact Boyd Law for a free consultation with a family law attorney. We can review your situation to help you decide which legal route is right for you.