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What is the difference between annulment and divorce?

In Illinois and other states, there are significant differences between an annulment and a divorce. An annulment is distinct from a divorce in that it operates to make it as if the marriage had never occurred, while a divorce simply ends the marriage. In some ways, though, the two actions are practically very similar. Both are court orders that essentially dissolve a marriage.

People seek annulments instead of divorces for a number of reasons, but the most common among them is religion. Some religious institutions forbid a subsequent marriage for those that have been previously divorced. Thus, for practitioners of these religions, annulment is often preferred. Generally speaking, in order to secure a legal annulment, there must be a demonstration of either fraud or misrepresentation, concealment, misunderstanding or lack of consummation.

Fraud or misrepresentation means one spouse lied about something important, for example, his or her age. Misrepresentation about the ability to have children or the ability to legally marry are also common grounds for annulment. Concealment means a failure to disclose rather than a lie. If one spouse failed to inform the other of ongoing criminal activity, addiction to drugs or a relevant health condition such as a sexually-transmitted disease, it may be legally sufficient to qualify for annulment.

Misunderstanding is less sinister than fraud or concealment, but may also be grounds for annulment. If there was a misunderstanding about the desire to have children, for example, annulment may be proper. Annulment may be also be granted if the marriage was never consummated. Beyond religion, there may be other reasons to seek annulment instead of divorce. Because each situation is unique, general guidelines can never answer all the questions an individual may have, and the foregoing is not meant to constitute legal advice. Instead, interested parties may wish to consult a family law attorney for a detailed examination of their particular circumstances.

Source: Findlaw, "FAQ Regarding Separation and Annulment Law", September 03, 2014

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