Ending a marriage can be a difficult decision. There are several different ways to legally separate from your spouse, such as:

  • Legal separation
  • Divorce
  • Annulment of marriage. 

Each legal action, except for legal separation, will essentially have the same effect of suspending or ending the marriage. Still, they are all quite different in terms of what kind of protections they provide and what legal qualifications spouses are required to meet.

 You can find the essential information in the annulment vs. divorce table below.





An invalid marriage is declared void and considered as if it never happened. Marital status after the annulment is finalized: single.

A valid marriage is terminated. The details about it are kept in the records and specific documents, such as a divorce decree. Marital status after a divorce is finalized: divorced.

Legal Help

It is possible to get an annulment without an attorney’s involvement. However, there are some cases when it is better to do so if children are involved or your spouse wants to contest the annulment.

If the couple is filing for an uncontested divorce, they may choose not to hire a lawyer. However, for a contested case, filing without an attorney is a huge risk.


The average price of annulment across the US is $1,000-2,000, depending on the filing fees. In some states, it can be as high as $5,000 if you seek legal assistance.

The average price of a contested divorce is $12,500 and depends on the number of issues to be resolved by the court. The cost of uncontested dissolution depends on filing fees in the state of residency.


In order to obtain an annulment of marriage, the filing party has to prove that one of the legal grounds adopted in the state applies to them. These reasons differ from state to state, and there are time limits for some. 

There are fault-based and no-fault states in the US, meaning that in some, one has to prove the spouse’s fault in the breakdown of the marriage, such as cruelty, infidelity, desertion, etc., in order to get a divorce. For a no-fault state, there is no need to prove anyone’s fault.


The whole process may take from 6 to 8 months. In serious cases, it can last longer. However, no waiting period is required for annulment cases.

The average time needed to get a contested divorce is from a few months to 1,5 years, and around 6 months for an uncontested divorce. There may also be a mandatory waiting period influencing the timing.

What is Annulment: Marriage Annulment Definition

For many couples, divorce is a traditional way to end one’s marriage, and a lot of them might not know they qualify for an annulment. So what does it mean to annul a marriage? An annulment makes a marriage void, as if it never even happened. The annulment meaning is that it “legally invalidates a marriage” based on the grounds that vary across states. However, unlike in a divorce, where a petitioner needs to prove the wrongdoing of the second spouse (in fault-based states), in annulment cases, one has to prove that marriage was never legal.

From a religious perspective, throughout history, divorce was taboo and considered a sin in the Church. Therefore, at certain times, annulling a marriage was the only way to end an unhappy union. Couples would need to petition the Catholic Church for an annulment to end the Holy Sacrament, but today couples can get a legal annulment through the court system.

How Does an Annulment Work?

While each state has slightly different criteria, the process is essentially the same. Here are the basic steps of getting an annulment:

  • The spouse that wants the annulment must file a petition with the local court. He or she also has to prepare the paperwork needed for their specific case or seek legal help in doing it.
  • The petitioner then has to serve the second party with the papers to which he or she must respond within the stated framework (depending on the state). You should find detailed information about the filing process in the local court of your state. 
  • In some states, you are not obliged to visit a court hearing to get an annulment. However, in some states, such as California, it is a must. During the hearing, the petitioner (the spouse filing for the annulment) must prove to the judge that the reasons for seeking the annulment meet the legal criteria.
  • As stated before, an annulment makes the marriage void, as if it never even happened. Both parties essentially go back to the way things were before the marriage (in a legal sense).

Note that the process varies across the US, and there are a few ways your annulment may go. Your spouse may contest it, refuse to answer, or sign the paperwork with you. You are more likely to finalize the process quicker if there is a mutual agreement.

Can you get an annulment after a divorce? Legally, no. Divorce annulment is not possible after the divorce takes place. You cannot get a legal annulment after a divorce either because the divorce ends a valid marriage. However, you may be able to get a “religious marriage annulment” after a divorce if this is what you’re interested in.

Legal Grounds for an Annulment vs. Divorce

There are a few legal grounds for an annulment. They may differ from state to state, but most of the following annulment requirements are valid country-wide.

Underage spouse

A marriage took place with an underage person. It means that if an adult married a person under 16 years of age without the consent of their parents, such a marriage could be annulled even by parents. A famous example of such a case is R.Kelly’s short-lived marriage to singer Aaliyah. R. Kelly was 29, while Aaliyah was only 15 years old. Her parents didn't consent to this marriage and requested annulment after finding out about it.


If one of the parties was under duress, the marriage can be nullified. This presupposes threats of violence or even killing if the marriage doesn’t take place. If one of the spouses has agreed to continue living with the abuser, then annulment might not be granted, and they have to file for a divorce instead. In such cases, it’s best to get a lawyer to see which options are available.


If a spouse is considered mentally incapable of agreeing to the marriage, the marriage can be voided. It can even be done by the person who married the incapacitated spouse without knowing they were unable to consent. If a second party has a serious mental disease, then the annulment can be filed by a legal guardian on their behalf.


Fraud is another legal reason to annul a marriage. For instance, if one of the spouses had a drug addiction that he or she hid from the spouse, the second party can file for an annulment.

Another situation is when one of the parties does not tell the other one that they are unable to have children. However, there should be proof that the spouse did not know about the situation before the marriage took place because if they did, it wouldn't be considered fraud.


Bigamy means that one of the spouses has already been married to someone and did not get a divorce before getting into a new marriage. In this case, the second marriage cannot be considered valid.


The marriage is generally void when it’s incestual. These are marriages between parents and children, aunts/uncles and their nephews, grandparents and grandchildren, and some other relatives depending on the state.

The answer to “When can you annul a marriage?” in some states depends on the legal grounds you file on. There are time limits for certain cases, and you will only be able to file for divorce after the time limits expire. Please note that this information concerns only legal annulment, not a religious one.

Timing of Annulment & Divorce: Comparison

The difference of annulment and divorce lies not only in the legal status people get after the process is finalized but also in the complexity and timing.

How Long Do You Have to Annul a Marriage?

Generally, you have up to a few years to annul a marriage. Different states have different marriage annulment time frame. As the reasons for filing for an annulment usually become evident soon after the marriage, most couples file for annulment fairly quickly. But some states will allow you to file for annulment within up to four years after saying your vows.

For example, in Minnesota, when you are filing for an annulment on the grounds of mental incapacity or insanity, you have 90 days from the time of learning about the condition to file. If you are filing because your spouse is impotent, then you have one year from the date that you discover it.

California allows up to four years after the wedding nuptials to file for an annulment. New York does not have a statute of limitations for a marriage annulment. In Texas, the marriage annulment time period is 30 days if the wedding vows were made within 3 days after the marriage license is issued.

How Long Does a Divorce Take?

It takes about 9-11 months for an average couple to divorce. However, a divorce can take years to settle. During the course of a marriage, a couple can buy a home together, have children, build wealth, start a business, and acquire sentimental heirlooms. At the same time, a couple can do some pretty nasty and hurtful things to each other.

A divorce is a legal proceeding that addresses the division of all the acquired wealth, property, and other assets. The spouses will also have to resolve the issues with custody and any payments made towards the children or the spouse.

If the two parties cannot agree, the divorce proceedings can take a very long time. A judge may order the couple to go to mediation to help them come to an agreement about their issues. In some states, it is mandatory that parents attend co-parenting classes during the divorce. Each issue is a potential reason for a divorce to become a legal landmine. And the divorce is final only when a judge signs the decree.

However, getting a divorce may be relatively easy if the couple manages to resolve all the disputes and files for an uncontested divorce. In such cases, they won’t need to hire a lawyer or involve any other experts in their divorce to have their dissolution finalized. In this case, the marriage will be over as soon as the waiting period adopted in the state passes as long as all other conditions are met.

Outcomes of Annulment and Divorce

As soon as the couple gets an annulment, the situation they find themselves in is different from the one where they get a divorce. The reason lies in the specific rules for annulment and the nature of this process. Here are the main post-divorce and -annulment outcomes the couples have to be aware of when deciding what to file for.


Since the US courts make a lot of divorce and annulment decisions based on the best interests of the children in a marriage, the outcomes for couples with children who filed for annulment will not differ much from a divorce case since children will be considered legitimately born (like in a valid marriage). However, in some states, parentage must be established during the trial.

After that, the court can grant a decision concerning child custody and support. One way or another, both parents must take care of their children, and the court will make respective orders.

Property division & Alimony

When having their marriage annulled, the couple is not eligible to get spousal support or divide any property due to the reason that their marriage has never legally existed. There might be some temporary alimony arrangements, but there are a lot of factors that go into such decisions. As soon as the judge makes the annulment official, the former couple goes back to the financial state each one was in before getting married. They may still make decisions outside of the court.

On the contrary, during a divorce, a couple will have to resolve any issues related to property or alimony either themselves, through court, or through a mediated process. However, it’s important to understand that there are specific state laws that guide the asset division and will influence the court ruling.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How long can you be married and still get an annulment?

The answer varies from state to state. Some states, like New York, do not have a statute of limitations on an annulment. Other states allow you to file for an annulment up to 90 days after the wedding ceremony. In certain cases, this period extends to a few years. For instance, in California, it is 4 years; in Pennsylvania, it is 60 days (with some exceptions depending on the ground); and in Virginia, it’s under 2 years.

  • How long does it take to get an annulment? 

The timeframe is usually around 6-8 months. A lot will depend on your state laws and whether your spouse contests the annulment. If you have children and need proper custody arrangements and child support orders, it will likely prolong the process.

  • How much does it cost to get an annulment?

The average cost of annulment across the USA is $1,000 if you do not need any outside assistance and just have to cover the filing fees (for more detailed pricing, please visit the official website of your local court). However, if the case is quite serious and requires hiring an attorney, you may spend around $5,000.

  • What is a religious annulment?

It is a proclamation by the Church that marriage is not valid. This kind of annulment does not have any legal power and cannot be referred to in court. However, with a religious annulment, the former spouses will have a right to remarry in the Church if they wish.