Annulment and Divorce: Do You Know The Difference?


When spouses have decided it is time to go their separate ways, many issues need resolving. Generally, this means divorce. Another legal option is an annulment. What is the difference between an annulment and a divorce?

What is an Annulment?

An annulment declares the marriage invalid, and therefore as if it never happened. The process ends the marriage legally just like divorce. In the end, you have a court ruling that declares the union did not take place.

An annulment makes it as if the marriage never existed. In Rhode Island, a judge declares the marriage “void” during the divorce proceedings. This ruling has the same result as an annulment.

Reasons For an Annulment

Legally, there are only a few specific things that will qualify your marriage for an annulment. These can be either religious or civic. Reasons for a civil process vary by state and can include:

  • fraud
  • being under the legal age for consent
  • insanity
  • misunderstanding
  • incapacity due to drugs or alcohol
  • bigamy
  • unconsummated marriage
  • impotence
  • concealment
  • incest
  • duress

A lawyer will need to prove all of the above situations in a court of law. The proceedings can sometimes be a more complicated process than an uncontested divorce.

Rhode Island Annulment Laws

Things are a little different in Rhode Island, and that is also true when it comes to annulments. There is legally no such thing as an annulment, but a judge can declare a marriage void, which is essentially the same thing. The couple must go through all the legal requirements of a divorce, and also request that the marriage is made void.

There are four reasons to legally void marriages in Rhode Island. They are:

  1. Incest – This is a marriage between two people who are closer than first cousins.
  2. Mental Incompetence – A judge determines that one spouse (or both) did not have the mental competence to enter into the marriage knowingly.
  3. Bigamy – This is when one spouse (or both) is already married to someone who is living.
  4. An unconsummated marriage – This occurs when one or both spouses refuse to have sexual intercourse with the other.

How is an Annulment Different From a Divorce?

A divorce dissolves an existing marriage. An annulment declares the marriage invalid from the start. Both parties go back to the legal state they were in before the wedding. An annulled marriage will not be on someone’s record, and it will be as if it didn’t happen.

What are some disadvantages of an annulment?

In Rhode Island, having a marriage declared “void” requires the same amount of legal paperwork and time as a regular divorce. There are several reasons why it is usually easier to get an uncontested divorce than it is to get an annulment.

Establishing grounds may be difficult.

It may not be easy to prove some of the circumstances that qualify a marriage for annulment. The petitioner must provide valid evidence to the judge in the form of written documentation or witness testimony. The evidence must be enough to convince a judge that the charges are authentic and valid.

Many states, including Rhode Island, offer uncontested divorces that are easier and cheaper than trying to prove an annulment. If the couple states they have “irreconcilable differences” and also agree on their divorce terms, they can avoid expensive court battles. In an annulment or to get the marriage declared void, both parties must appear in court.

Both spouses lose access to spousal Social Security benefits.

Even when divorced, if a couple is together for more than ten years, they can collect Social Security benefits from the other spouse. Check here for guidelines from the Social Security Administration. This situation is not the case in a void or annulled marriage.

There is no spousal support.

When a marriage is declared void, that lets either spouse out of any further financial obligation to each other. However, parental support payments are required because children of a void marriage are considered legitimate. A judge determines terms for custody, visitation, and child support during the court proceedings, just like in a typical divorce.

When is it Best to Get an Annulment?

There are several reasons a couple may choose to get an annulment as opposed to a divorce. Sometimes people prefer a marriage to be void because of a perceived social stigma associated with divorce. In civil cases, it is generally for financial reasons.

There can be some economic benefits because it puts a person back into the exact financial state that they were in before the marriage. It’s a bit like a reset button. All financial debts incurred after the wedding are split equally between the couple. Each state handles the splitting of assets gained during the marriage differently.

If you’d like more details on the difference between an annulment and a divorce in Rhode Island, contact Divorce Lawyer Susan T. Perkins today to schedule a free consultation.