What is an annulment and how is it different from a divorce?

By Lee Ann Obringer

Like divorce, annulment also dissolves a marriage; but unlike divorce, it indicates that the marriage never happened. An annulment is often required in the Roman Catholic Church in order for someone to remarry. Grounds for an annulment vary by jurisdiction but usually include:

  • fraud or misrepresentation (for example, one spouse may already be married to someone else or may have withheld the fact that he or she can’t have children)
  • concealment (for example, the spouse may have concealed a drug addiction, prior criminal record or having a sexually transmitted disease)
  • inability or refusal to have sexual intercourse with his or her spouse
  • misunderstanding (for example, differing ideas of lifestyle or desire to have children)

Annulments are most common when couples have not been married for very long. One annulment that made the news in 2004 dissolved the marriage of Britney Spears to her childhood sweetheart Jason Allen Alexander. They were married at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas on January 4, 2004. But by January 5, Britney had filed for an annulment in a Nevada court. She claimed she “lacked understanding of her actions to the extent that she was incapable of agreeing to marriage because before entering into the marriage the Plaintiff and Defendant did not know each other’s likes and dislikes, each other’s desires to have or not have children, and each other’s desires as to a state of residency.” The annulment was granted within a couple of hours.

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