What's the difference between annulment, separation and divorce?

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What's the difference between annulment, separation and divorce?


Just as states require people to meet certain criteria before they can be legally married, many states also require that couples meet particular requirements before their marriages can be formally ended or dissolved.

If a couple no longer wants to be married to each other, they may wonder what legal method is best to help them accomplish this goal. They can end their union successfully and move on with their lives when they recognize the differences between an annulment, a divorce and a legal separation, and by choosing the option that best suits their legal needs.

Legal Annulment

An annulment may be granted by the court if it can be determined that a couple’s marriage never legally existed in the first place. In circumstances of bigamy, fraud, coercion, incest and non-consummation of the marriage, a couple may be given an annulment because the court will deem that they were never validly or legally married to each other.

Both parties are then free to pursue a new marriage or begin a new relationship at their discretion. However, despite the marriage being annulled, a couple may still need to rely on legal counsel to help them with matters like child custody, support and visitation, as well as dividing up the assets gained during their union.


When a court grants a divorce, it ends a marriage that was otherwise found to have legally existed. Many states today have no-fault divorce laws, allowing couples to end their marriages without proving that either party directly contributed to the union’s end.

However, some of the more common reasons given for divorces today include incompatibility or irreconcilable differences. When a couple pursues a divorce, the judge overseeing the matter must ensure that the couple’s assets are divided fairly and that any minor children are provided for adequately.

Rather than leave these things to chance or being dependent on the goodwill of the court, people are highly advised to rely on an attorney throughout the entire divorce proceeding.

Legal Separation

A legal separation involves more than just deciding to move out and live apart from one’s spouse for a while. In fact, most courts will not recognize a person’s simply moving out of the marital home as any form of a separation.

Someone who wants a legal separation from their spouse must file for this action through the court. The couple will still be married and will be prohibited from moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, for example, or getting married to someone else.

However, legally separated couples are free to divide up their marital assets if they so choose. They are also encouraged to rely on an attorney during the process of being legally separated from each other.

Ending a marriage can be done in several different ways. Realizing the difference between an annulment, divorce and a legal separation can help people choose the best method for their particular needs.

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