What is the Difference Between Divorce and Annulment in California?

As most people know, a divorce is the end of a marriage. It can be a complicated process that includes the division of assets, legal and physical custody, parenting time, spousal and child support, etc. The divorce is the end of a legal marriage with many details that have to be figured out before the final papers can be signed.

An annulment, on the other hand, may be granted when the marriage was not legal to begin with.

The two biggest reasons in which a marriage was never legally valid:

  • Incest – this is when the parties of the marriage are close blood relatives and are not legally able to be married
  • Bigamy – if one spouse is already married (and there is no divorce or the other party has died), they are legally unable to be married again.

There are several other reasons why a marriage would be declared invalid after the fact:

  • Age – If one of the parties was under the age of 18 at the time of the wedding (and the proper court order was not obtained) and they applied for an annulment, the marriage would be considered invalid
  • Prior existing marriage – in this case, we are not talking about bigamy, but rather a prior marriage in which a spouse was absent for some reason and not known to be living or was thought to be dead
  • Unsound Mind – A marriage will be declared invalid of one person is shown to have been incapable of making the sound decision to marry on their own
  • Fraud – If one spouse misrepresented themselves in a way vital to the relationship about something that directly led them to make the decision to marry in the first place
  • Force – If either party only agreed to the marriage under adverse and forced conditions
  • Physical Incapacity – This means that the marriage took place while one person was physically incapacitated and is unable to consummate the relationship and the condition appears to be permanent ​

Annulments have Strict Guidelines and Time Constraints

Unlike a divorce, which can be initiated at any point of the marriage, an annulment is subject to a statute of limitations. The time frame in which an annulment can be sought and granted varies depending on the grounds for the annulment.

An annulment can happen after children have been born or after property, or conversely, debt has been accumulated. With the annulment of the marriage, parentage of the kids is no longer assumed and parentage must be legally established before any consideration can be made about support or parenting time. The concepts of community property or spousal support also does not come into play except for very specific circumstances. This can make the division of property extremely difficult and contentious.

If you have any questions related to the differences between a divorce or an annulment, or you are dealing with the legal ramifications of an annulment, call the Law Office of Tracy Duell-Cazes at 408-267-4848.


1530 The Alameda, Suite 108
San Jose, CA 95126

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TDC Family Law serves the entire state of California for Contempt of Court and Private Settlement Judge & Mediation

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