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Differences Between Annulment and Divorce

When your marriage comes to a breaking point, your first thought may be to wish the marriage had never happened, and a quick internet search may lead you to consider an annulment rather than a divorce. While both routes lead to the dissolution of a marital union, each has markedly distinct legal requirements and legal consequences. If you are seriously considering either an annulment or a divorce, understanding the differences is essential.

Main Differences Between Divorce and Annulment

Dissolving a marriage starts with understanding the fundamental distinctions between a divorce and an annulment. Both result in the dissolution of marriage, but, for the most part, that is where their similarities end.


Divorce signifies the end of a legally valid marriage, acknowledging that the union existed but has now been dissolved. It recognizes that the marriage was indeed legitimate. Therefore, issues such as spousal maintenance and the equitable distribution of property must be addressed either by agreement of the parties or a determination by a court of competent jurisdiction. If you file for divorce, the court’s role is to equitably separate this shared life, ensuring a fair distribution of assets, responsibilities, and rights.


In contrast to divorce, the law requires a party seeking an annulment to prove that the marriage was void. A void marriage means that, in the eyes of the law, the marriage never existed. In New York, a party seeking to annul a marriage has a high burden of proof upon grounds of fraud, coercion, incapacity, or illegality. If a court decides to grant an annulment, it erases the legal status of the marriage, treating it as though it never legally existed. This distinction can have profound implications, particularly in how it affects the way couples divide property and the recognition of rights and obligations that typically arise from a marital relationship.

Legally speaking, grounds for annulment have specific requirements to be proven, which can include, but are not limited to: bigamy, underage marriage without proper consent, incest, fraud, force, or physical incapacity. Divorce proceedings, however, can address a broader range of reasons for separation, including New York’s “no-fault” ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage for a period of at least six months. Indeed, any spouse seeking to dissolve their marriage can do so under no-fault grounds, so long as the six-month requirement is satisfied.

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How Do Annulments and Divorces Handle Children?

Whether through annulment or divorce, the legal system prioritizes the welfare of children, regardless of whether the parties were married. Accordingly, custody, child support, and rights to parenting time will be determined in the best interests of the children if either parent makes the appropriate application through the court system. Of course, people may settle their custody issues outside of court by mutual agreement.

Which Is Better: Annulment or Divorce?

Choosing between an annulment and a divorce hinges on personal situations and legal criteria. Obtaining an annulment might be pursued for void or voidable marriages on the basis set forth above. Again, the result of an annulment is a declaration that the marriage never happened in the first place. This option is particularly relevant for those with strong religious or personal beliefs that disfavor divorce. However, seeking an annulment requires strict proof of certain qualifying conditions, and in most marriages, an annulment is not possible.

In New York, divorce is essentially available to every spouse desiring to end their marriage. Proof of the fault of either party is not required. The court system provides a structured process for addressing the division of assets, custody, and support; however, parties also have the option of negotiating an agreement between themselves and, if successful, pursuing an uncontested divorce.

After an Annulment or Divorce

Post-annulment or divorce, individuals face significant adjustments across their financial, legal, and personal lives. Although an annulment would render the entire marriage null and void, if the parties have children, then they must address the issues of custody, parenting time, and child support, the same as in a divorce. Furthermore, if the parties have jointly titled assets, they would still need to navigate dividing that property, as the laws of title still apply. Divorce will always involve the division of assets and debts, but it may also include spousal maintenance.

Emotionally and socially, both paths require adaptation and healing, with many seeking counseling or support groups to navigate this transition. Ultimately, whether through annulment or divorce, there emerges an opportunity for personal growth and new beginnings, encouraging individuals to look forward and rebuild with a focus on their well-being and future happiness.

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Divorce vs. Annulment: Bottom Line

The choice between divorce and annulment boils down to legal validity and personal circumstances. Divorce ends a legally recognized marriage, dealing comprehensively with asset division, child custody, and spousal support, making it a viable route for couples whose marriages are valid but irretrievably broken. Annulment, on the other hand, erases the marriage from its inception and requires specific criteria for such a declaration.

Speak With a Divorce Lawyer Today!

If you’re facing the difficult decision of how to end your marriage, don’t wait to reach out for legal advice. Contact a divorce lawyer today to explore your options, understand the legal processes, and take the first step towards a new beginning.

Michael Liptrot is senior counsel in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s White Plains office, where he focuses his practice on family and matrimonial law. For close to a decade, Michael has practiced family law across New York City, including the five boroughs, the lower Hudson Valley area, and New Jersey. Throughout his time practicing, Michael has gained a vast amount of experience in family and matrimonial law, with specific experience in divorce, custody, child support, family offense, neglect/abuse, guardianship, and SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status) matters. He can be reached at or at 8885294543.

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