Are Marriage Annulments and Divorces the Same Thing?


When regular people need to end their marriage, they suddenly find themselves in a new, unfamiliar world. Legal terms and jargon get thrown around, and people with no prior legal experience can get lost.

Something that may seem “simple,” like the difference between a divorce and an annulment, can become confusing to the layperson.

The Law Office of Nicholas T. Exarhakis always strives to make the law accessible to everyone. It should not be something that only the privileged few understand.

In that spirit, this article is here to broadly define both divorce and marriage annulment, clarifying the similarities and differences between the two.

Divorce Ends a Marriage

When you get divorced, your former marriage remains a part of your legal record. People who search your background will find a period where the marriage began and ended.

Annulment Invalidates a Marriage

When something is “null” or “nullified,” it no longer has legal merit. A court could, for instance, nullify a prior ruling in a civil or criminal case.

The word “null” is right there inside the word “annulment.” Legally, the marriage never existed, and it is removed from your record.

Divorce Can Happen for Any Reason

In the U.S., people aren’t required to provide specific reasons for their divorce. Someone can simply wake up one day, decide they don’t want to be married anymore, and begin the divorce process.

They can receive pushback from their spouse, which may force the matter into a courtroom trial. Even there, however, there is nothing to prove. It is extremely rare for a U.S. court to force someone to stay married when they don’t want to be.

Annulment Has Specific Requirements

When you are asking for an annulment, you are essentially claiming that the marriage never should have happened. Something about the union is illegal or fraudulent. Therefore, there are much tighter restrictions on annulments.

In Maryland, you can seek an annulment when:

  • The spouses are closely related (closer than first cousins).
  • At least one spouse was entered the marriage under duress.
  • At least one spouse was already legally married at the time of the marriage.
  • At least one spouse somehow defrauded the other, tricking them into the marriage.
  • At least one spouse was underage at the time of the marriage, and they did not have parental our court consent to marry.
  • At least one spouse was, at the time of the marriage, incapable of consenting to that marriage. This can include someone who got married during a severe mental health crisis.

Divorce Attempts to Protect the Spouses

When you get divorced, you are legally breaking up a family. The law assumes that neither spouse should be left destitute afterward, so it creates protections for all members of that family. That’s why we have spousal support and property division.

Annulment Treats Spouses as Individuals

Marriage annulment is not breaking up a family. It ends a legally unsound marriage.

Therefore, courts treat spouses as individuals. Normally, there is no spousal support, and spouses leave the marriage with whatever they directly purchased during the marriage. Since many annulments are the result of deceit, courts can order one spouse to give the other property as compensation. It is highly unlikely, however, that either spouse will pay or receive spousal support.

If the spouses share children, the court can create a parenting plan and order child support. These decisions, however, will likely be treated as if the two are single and were never married.

If you believe that your marriage requires an annulment, our firm can help. We can answer any questions you have, and we can help you with a divorce if an annulment is not an appropriate option. For more information, call us at (410) 593-0040 or contact us online.

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