Alternatives to Divorce & Your Legal Options
If you are not happy being married but do not want to get divorced, whether for a legal, religious, or other reasons, there may be alternatives that you can take advantage of. Depending on your circumstances, an annulment or a separation may be a better option for you and your spouse.
An annulment is different from a divorce. While both will end a marriage, the two processes do not accomplish the dissolution in the same way. A divorce legally ends the marriage, but acknowledges that the marriage existed for a period of time. An annulment has the effect of legally erasing the marriage. Annulments can be granted on legal or religious grounds. This article will only address legal annulments, as the specifics involved in religious annulments can vary depending on the religion.
Generally, states will only grant annulments in certain circumstances. One reason for this is to prevent couples from circumventing divorce laws, because these laws are meant to protect spouses. For example, if one spouse works and the other spouse stays home to provide childcare, divorce laws are intended to ensure that the spouse who has possibly sacrificed their career to take care of the children is not left without a means of supporting themselves and their children in the event of a divorce. In an annulment, any jointly acquired property will still need to be distributed. However, the length of the marriage in those cases is typically much shorter than in cases involving divorce, meaning that parties seeking an annulment have usually not sacrificed their earning ability in reliance on their partner to the same extent as in other marriages.
As noted above, after a marriage is annulled, it is as though it never happened from a legal standpoint. However, if children were born to the couple while they were legally married, their kids will still be considered children of the marriage.
Grounds for Annulment
State laws vary, but there are a few legal grounds for annulments that are common. In an annulment there generally has to be someone at fault. One of the more common grounds for an annulment is fraud or misrepresentation. In order to get an annulment on this basis, one of the parties must have essentially lied about something material, such as whether they are already married to someone else. In order to provide grounds for an annulment, a lie must be significant. In other words, it must be about something that had you known about it, you would not have agreed to marry your spouse.
A similar basis for annulment is called “concealment,” and involves hiding material information instead of lying about it. Concealment is when someone fails to disclose a major fact about themselves. One example would be that they have a criminal record. Once again, the concealment needs to be of the sort that had the spouse known about it, they would have never agreed to get married. Another related ground is misunderstanding. This could come into play when one of the spouses does not want to have children but the other does, or they realize that there is another major issue that they incorrectly thought they agreed upon.
Other common reasons for annulment are impotency, incest, and lack of consent. For the impotency ground to apply, the impotency needs to be incurable and the spouse must not have known about it at the time of the marriage. The incest ground applies when the parties are too closely related to have gotten married in the first place. The specific familial relationships that apply will depend on state law. Finally, if one of the parties was unable to give consent due to mental incapacity, or was forced into the marriage, the lack of consent ground will apply.
Legal separation is different from a divorce in that even though the separating couple chooses not to live their lives as a married couple in most ways, they stay legally married. In a legal separation, the court recognizes that the couple is separated. The court can also step in to assist the couple in settling asset division, custody, and other matters. Legal separations may be preferred over divorce by some couples for financial or religious reasons. It is also much easier for a legally separated couple to resume living as a married couple again if they choose, as they would simply need to revoke the separation, rather than get married again as they would have to do after a divorce.
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