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Annulment - Divorce Versus Annulment

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaDivorceAnnulment - Divorce Versus Annulment, Grounds For Annulment, Historical Link With Church Law

Divorce Versus Annulment

Before persons can enter another marriage after they have exchanged vows in a marriage ceremony, the prior marriage must be liquidated. To sever the chains of matrimony or "untie the knot," the case must be adjudicated in a civil court that handles either divorce or annulment.

Divorce presupposes that a valid marriage was entered into by the parties involved and ends a marriage as of the date the divorce decree becomes final. Divorce per se has no effect on the legitimacy of children born of this union or on a claim for alimony.

Annulment implies that a valid marriage never took place because of the inability to perform the responsibilities of marriage. The parties are considered to lack the ability to give valid consent if, at the time and in the place where the marriage ceremony was performed, there was some defect, impediment, or lack of capacity preventing a legal marriage between the parties concerned. When this fact is so judged by legal authority (adjudicated), the legal judgment implies that the marriage is voided from its inception. Unless altered by statute, annulment has the legal effect of rendering the children born of this union "illegitimate." A claim for alimony would also be invalid unless the rule is changed by statute or judicial decision.

State legislatures have tended to confuse the distinction between divorce and annulment as they enact divorce statutes. Divorce serves as a substitute for annulment in those jurisdictions that have no statutes allowing courts to grant annulments and becomes a catchall for cases involving such issues as bigamy and impotency.

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