Divorce, annulment and separation all have the same end result. But they aren’t the same.
Whoa! Your marriage is over. You found out some bad things about your spouse and you just. Want. Out. What grounds do you have to bring your marriage to an end? Do you want a divorce, an annulment or just a separation? Which one is appropriate?
Will any of your options meet your needs, or should you choose only one of them?
You need to know the differences between divorce, separation and annulment. You also need to know if a simple separation is just like a divorce.
Once you have all the answers you need, you’ll be better equipped to make a life-changing decision.
Table of Contents
Divorce is a legal action that brings your marriage to an end. A judge usually gets involved if there are children, visitation, support payments and custody to work out. You’ll also see a judge if you and your spouse will be dividing assets and if you are asking for spousal support.
Once the divorce has been finalized and filed with the court, you and your partner are no longer legally bound to one another. You can do anything you need or would like to do, be it work, travel, enter a new relationship or remain single. In essence, you are single again.
If you are wondering whether you should hire a divorce attorney, do so if you can. Even if you have to borrow money from a family member, that obligation may be much smaller than the potential loss if you have no lawyer, but your spouse does. Your lawyer will know what current divorce law is. They will be able to advise you about your rights surrounding custody, child support, visitation and spousal support.
If you haven’t worked during your marriage, it won’t be very easy for you to enter the workforce. Until you do find a job, you’ll be reliant on the spousal support check your ex sends to you. Again, having a lawyer on your side can go far toward making sure you won’t wind up on the losing end.
Several conditions can exist that render your marriage invalid. Once you realize this, you may decide you no longer want to be connected to someone you considered to be your spouse. Two types of annulment exist: legal and the religious annulment.
In a legal annulment, the court decides that your marriage is invalid. That is, it never existed, because of one or more reasons. These conditions are:
- Marriage was bigamous
- Marriage was incestuous
- You got married by force or fraud
- One partner in the marriage suffers from a physical or mental incapacity
- You or your spouse were younger than the legal age for marriage
- You or your spouse were in a registered domestic partnership with someone else
- You or your spouse were under the influence—drugs or alcohol
In a religious annulment, the same concept exists. However, the church’s (Catholic) diocesan tribunal listens to or reads the evidence, then decides themselves whether the marriage lacked a critical component. If this is so, the marriage was not a covenant for life. Usually, one partner will be aware that their marriage lacked that covenant component. When this happens, they request paperwork from the diocese. Witnesses (family members or close family friends) fill out forms and answer several questions that allow the tribunal to decide if a covenant marriage existed or not. Some examples of what blocks a covenant marriage are immaturity, lack of emotional commitment or community and lack of honesty. If one of the partners had known at the beginning of the marriage that something was missing, the marriage would not have taken place.
Separation is a legally acknowledged division between both spouses. The couple is still married, but they no longer live under the same roof. They can’t remarry or go into a domestic partnership with someone else.
Just living apart from each other doesn’t make a separation legal in the view of the court. But, if you and your spouse consider your separation to be permanent, then the date on which you separated becomes the reference point when you begin to work on dividing your marital assets.
When some couples separate, they get enough space and time to begin to reconsider their situations. They may eventually decide to get back together and drop plans for a divorce.
You can formalize a separation with support orders for child support and spousal support. If you are working on getting back together, having these issues codified in black and white so no misunderstandings arise. On the other hand, if the two of you do decide that divorce is the only solution, remember that prior legal agreements (child support, for instance) may come up again during divorce proceedings. If the arrangements you had are still agreeable to the two of you, let your attorneys know this so new orders won’t be put into place. If you can agree on this, you are miles ahead! Your kids and other family members will only benefit.
Differences Between Divorce and Annulment
Annulment: Marriage is null and void. It may as well not have happened. Divorce: a legal marriage has come to an end.
This is the only difference between the two terms. Beyond that, the two of you are now free to move on with new relationships. You’ll also be working on child custody, child support, division of assets and spousal support or alimony.
Is Divorce the Same as a Separation in St. Louis?
No. You’re still legally married to your spouse. Even if you filed paperwork for a legal separation, you are still legally bound to your spouse.
Even if you decide not to go to the time or trouble of filing paperwork for a legal separation, just living apart means nothing. It’s only when you or your spouse decide to file paperwork for a proper divorce that your marriage will truly come to a legal end. When that happens and the judge has signed your paperwork, you are finally no longer legally bound to one another. Of course, this now means that your spouse may be required to pay spousal and child support. And you’ll have to agree to terms of visitation for any children you may have had together.
What Option is Best for You?
Every situation is different. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else. If you know, for instance, that your marriage is lacking a critical component, then annulment is the best option. If you know that just staying separated is not an option, then opt for a divorce.
If your spouse is abusive toward you or your children, then divorce papers that give you sole legal and physical custody may be the best option, especially when it comes to the needs of the children.
Annulment = Null and Void
Divorce and annulment are not the same things. The results may be similar. Take a look.
Annulment simply declares your marriage null and void, as though it never happened. Divorce is the permanent legal dissolution of a marriage that did exist.
Before you got married, the problems were there, whether your saw them or not. Either your spouse misrepresented himself or his situation, tried to defraud you or concealed an earlier, still-existing marriage. For whatever reasons, he chose not to or was unable to consummate the marriage. You may be closely related to your spouse. Or you were forced to marry him.
Those are all grounds for a legal annulment. You walk away from the “marriage” with the same assets you brought to the marriage. If there are children, their existence, need for support and visitation will be handled just as they would in a divorce. It is not very likely that you’ll be awarded alimony. That is very rare in cases of annulment.
Do You Have Grounds for Ending Your Marriage?
You know your situation the best. You know whether you entered your marriage knowing of everything your partner was doing.
Even if the two of you have just grown apart, you no longer need to show why your marriage is over. In some states, irreconcilable differences, insupportability, incompatibility and of course, no-fault divorces are options you can decide on, based on the interaction between you, would be the best choice. In other states, you can say that your marriage is over.
You may simply want to live apart from your spouse without going through the hoops that filing for divorce requires. If you and your spouse have no desire to enter into subsequent romantic relationships or domestic partnerships in the future, then a permanent legal separation may be your best choice. Again, you know your situation better than anyone else. Speak to a family lawyer in St. Louis to make your decision.
Kathleen E. Shaul is a highly-skilled family and divorce attorney based in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been practicing family law in St. Louis since 1995 and is dedicated to providing the highest quality legal representation for families.