Understanding the Difference between Divorce and Annulment of Marriage


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Whether it’s been mostly rocky or smooth sailing for two former romantic partners, ending a marriage will weigh heavily on all parties. After all, it isn’t easy to break apart what was once whole. Everyone involved will have to cope with several things: to permanently change the status of a relationship, to leave a cherished home, or to explain those big changes to children.

Regardless, if dissolving the marriage seems to be the best recourse, a couple has two legal avenues to do so: either via annulment, or via divorce. But the two are very different by definition and will entail very different proceedings in court. For those who would like to learn more about the differences between annulment and divorce—and who may need to make the difficult choice of commencing one of the two—here is a quick primer.

What is an Annulment?

During an annulment, a court decides if a marriage is recognized by the law in the first place or if it is invalid (hence the root word “null”). The following are common grounds for annulment:

  • Bigamy – if one spouse was still legally married to another person by the time the second marriage took place
  • Forced consent – if one spouse only entered a marriage under duress and not completely of their own free will
  • Mental illness – if one spouse was suffering from mental illness and the marriage would not have pushed through had that person been in a stable mental condition
  • Non-consummation of marriage – if the couple did not consummate their marriage with sexual intercourse

What is a Divorce?

On the other hand, divorce entails a ruling to terminate a legally valid marriage or a marriage recognized as a valid union. Often, a divorce can only proceed after the couple has been married for a minimum of three years. The following are common grounds for divorce:

  • Adultery – if there is proof that one or both of the spouses has engaged in extramarital affairs
  • Desertion – if one spouse has abandoned the other and their family for a long period
  • Physical or emotional abuse – if one spouse has inflicted violence upon the other by means of physical, emotional, or financial abuse
  • Alcoholism – if being under the influence has hampered either spouse in carrying out their marital and/or parental duties

Important Things to Consider before Filing for Annulment or Divorce

Those considering either annulment or divorce have a long and tedious battle ahead of them. You and your ex will no longer be on the same side when deciding about vital matters like custody and care of the children, the division of your matrimonial assets, and maintenance. You may learn the hard way that the law does not play out the way it’s portrayed in movies: assets will not necessarily be split 50/50, custody of the children may not go to the mother by default, and maintenance may be an issue for either spouse—not just the wife.

You may also need to go through certain pre-conditions for either process. For example, in a country like Singapore, it is mandated by law for a couple to attend a parental counseling program if they have a child under fourteen years old and who initially objects to the divorce proceedings.

It is never possible to dissolve a marriage overnight. One annulment or divorce may take months, or even a year—perhaps even longer if the decision is contested by one partner.

For affairs that are this delicate in nature, it is absolutely necessary to be in contact with a family lawyer. You will want someone with a proven specialty in the practice area of family law and who knows the best recourse in the law when emotions are at their peak.

What difference can a seasoned family lawyer make in carrying out an annulment or divorce for you? Their services can count for a lot—you may be able to reach a resolution as quickly and amicably as possible in those circumstances, and you’ll have a powerful voice advocating for what’s due to you and your family. Read the news attached to the Viviene Sandhu Clifford Law Profile and learn of Clifford Law partner Viviene Sandhu’s important contributions to family justice. Don’t despair, because the best family lawyer will help you out of your marriage and on the mend towards a better life.


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