Annulment vs. Divorce in New York – What’s the Difference? 2024

When a married couple decides to end their relationship, they will choose one of three ways to do so. They can legally separate, divorce, or have their marriage annulled. However, each situation comes with its own set of circumstances and qualifications. A separation simply creates a distance between the two individuals. For those wishing to end the marriage altogether, they will seek out one of the other two options.

Understanding the differences between an annulment and a divorce can help you understand which is the most effective way to end your marriage.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Both an annulment and a divorce will legally end a marriage. However, the biggest difference between both is how the marriage is recognized. A divorce separates a couple that is engaged in a valid marriage, whereas an annulment is for those in an invalid marriage. By definition:

  • Divorce. This is the legal process of terminating, ending, or dissolving a valid marriage. At the conclusion of a divorce, the marriage is considered legally ended, and each spouse is considered single.
  • Annulment. This legal process erases the marriage and declares the marriage null and void because the circumstances of the marriage made it invalid from the onset. The term “erase” does not mean that it never happened, as the marriage records remain on file. It declares that the marriage was never valid and, therefore, the spouses should never have been married in the first place.

These same options are available to those who are in a same-sex marriage.

Grounds for Divorce vs. Grounds for Annulment

The grounds for divorce or annulment are the legal stipulations that allow a couple to seek one option or the other. When a couple chooses a divorce, they are choosing to end the legal union between themselves and their partner, but both recognize that the marriage existed. When an annulment is sought, one spouse or the other declares that the marriage was never valid for one reason or another.

Grounds for divorce include:

  • One spouse is threatening or endangers the other spouse.
  • There are irreconcilable differences.
  • One spouse has abandoned the other.
  • The couple has lived apart for a year or more.
  • One spouse is incarcerated for three years or more after the marriage occurs.

New York is a no-fault state and, therefore, allows a couple to divorce without having to prove any specific fault. This also means that the level of fault in the ultimate divorce decision does not have an impact on decisions made when creating the divorce settlement.

In an annulment, the marriage is thought to have never occurred in the first place. Grounds for an annulment include:

  • One or both spouses were tricked into entering the marriage, usually through intentional fraud.
  • One or both spouses were not of sound mind and body to make the decision to marry as a result of influences such as poor mental health, alcohol intoxication, or drug use.
  • One or both spouses were already in an active, legal marriage to someone else and, therefore, were unable to marry.
  • One or both spouses were under the legal age to marry.
  • The spouses are incestually related to each other.
  • One or both spouses hid pertinent information, such as child custody, drug use, criminal history, or a major illness, from their spouse.
  • There is a lack of ability to physically consummate the marriage.

An annulment in New York must be filed within 5 years of the marriage to qualify.

Looking at the differences, it is easy to understand why annulments are much less common than divorces, as they must meet one of the grounds listed.

Settlement of Divorce vs. Annulment

Choosing a divorce or annulment does not negate the necessary settlement that must occur at the end of the separation. However, there are still differences between both processes and the resulting legal settlement that results from them. In both processes, there must still be decisions surrounding any child custody and child support. However, the other areas will vary.

In New York, couples seeking an annulment also have the right to seek equitable property division. However, spousal support is unlikely as compared to a divorce.

FAQs About Annulment vs. Divorce in New York

What Qualifies for Annulment in New York?

Annulments must be filed within five years of the marriage and must meet certain qualifications proving that the marriage was invalid from the onset. To prove this qualification, one or both spouses could suffer from an incurable mental illness or be physically unfit to consummate the marriage. Additionally, the marriage could be the result of fraud or the spouses are related to each other.

What Is the Biggest Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce?

In a divorce, the marriage is recognized as valid, and each spouse is considered “divorced” when the decree is finalized. In an annulment, the marriage is considered invalid. Because of this, the finalization of the annulment negates the marriage altogether, returning each spouse to the status of “single” or “unmarried.”

Why Do People Want an Annulment Instead of Divorce?

An annulment validates one or both spouse’s recognition that the marriage was never valid. The annulment decree keeps the record of the marriage on file but considers the marriage to be null and void. This allows the separating spouses to regard the marriage as never happening in the eyes of the law.

What Is the Disadvantage of Annulment?

While an annulment is a quicker process for ending an invalid marriage, spouses who seek this route lose out on opportunities that are otherwise granted in a divorce. While both need to reach agreements or legal orders for property division, child support, and child custody, there are no opportunities for spousal maintenance, which negates certain benefits that may have previously been available.

New York Family Law Attorney

If you are seeking an end to your marriage and aren’t sure what options you may have, you should seek a trusted attorney who can help you through the circumstances that you are facing. At Trotto Law Firm, P.C., our family law attorney can answer the questions you have and help you understand whether a divorce or annulment is the right choice for you.

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