How is an Annulment Different From a Divorce?

Divorce and annulment are means of ending marriages. There are similarities between these two methods, but there are also critical differences. If you are thinking about filing for a divorce, or you have recently separated from your partner and you are exploring the next steps, it is essential to be aware of the differences between an annulment and a divorce. In this article, we’ll answer important questions, providing you with the information you need to understand how an annulment is different from a divorce.

What is an annulment vs a divorce?

Before we discuss the differences between an annulment and a divorce, it’s important to determine what these terms mean. 

What is an annulment and how does it work?

An annulment brings a marriage to a close but it goes beyond the boundaries of a traditional divorce. When you go through this process, the court renders the marriage void or invalid. In simple terms, it is as though the marriage never existed. 

In New York State courts, there are five specific grounds that facilitate the annulment of a marriage. These include:

  1. One or both individuals were under the age of 18 when they got married: according to state laws, under 18s must have parental consent to get married. If one or either spouse is aged under 16, the court must approve the marriage. If the conditions are not met, an underage spouse may seek an annulment. It is also possible for their parents or legal guardian to petition on their behalf.
  1. One or both spouses lacked the mental capacity to consent to marriage: if one or both spouses lacked the mental capacity to give consent to get married, the marriage can be annulled. 
  1. One or both spouses are unable to engage in sexual intercourse: a marriage can be annulled if one or both spouses are unable to engage physically in sexual intercourse. This criterion applies within the first five years of marriage when the individual was unaware of the problems at the time of getting married.
  1. Incurable mental illness: if a spouse has an incurable mental illness, their partner can seek an annulment. The spouse must be ill for at least five years. 
  1. Consent was obtained under force, fraud or duress: if you gave consent to marry your partner due to fraud, force or pressure, you may be able to obtain an annulment. Examples include being forced to marry to get a green card or a spouse claiming to be pregnant to make their partner marry them. Fraud and misrepresentation are the most common reasons for annulment in the US (source). 

Once a marriage has been annulled, it is declared void. 

What is a divorce?

A divorce is a legal process, which terminates a marriage. To get a divorce in New York, there are residency requirements. The most common reasons cited for a divorce in the US include:

  • Infidelity
  • Abandonment
  • Irreconcilable differences
  • Irretrievable breakdown
  • Imprisonment
  • Incompatibility

What are the differences between a divorce and an annulment?

It is critical to understand the differences between a divorce and an annulment to ensure that you take the right path if you are thinking about ending a relationship, or you need advice about what to do if your marriage is over and you don’t know what to do next. Here are some important differences to consider:


It is much more common to end a marriage by filing for a divorce. Annulments are relatively rare in comparison with divorces. When people decide to end a marriage, the vast majority will go down the route of petitioning for a divorce. 

Definitions and meanings

A divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage. An annulment also brings a relationship to a close, but it is different from a divorce. Once a spouse obtains an annulment, the marriage becomes void. In essence, an annulment means that the marriage was never valid. 


There are very specific grounds for obtaining an annulment in New York state courts. There are five criteria that govern whether or not an individual can seek an annulment. The grounds for divorce are less stringent and comprehensive. 


The process of obtaining an annulment is often more complex than a divorce because it requires a trial and a hearing in front of a judge. A judge can grant a divorce without the need for a trial. To get an annulment, the individual has to provide evidence that supports their claim and shows that their case meets the qualifying criteria. 

Which strategy is best for me?

Most people who want to end their marriage will go down the route of petitioning for a divorce. The criteria for an annulment are much narrower and they cover a much smaller pool of people. However, if you think that your situation fits with the requirements of annulment in New York state courts, it is important to consider all the options open to you. In some cases, obtaining an annulment is a better strategy, as the obligations proposed by the court may be different from divorce. 

Seeking expert legal advice is advisable when ending a marriage. The processes of filing for divorce and obtaining an annulment can be complex, especially in cases where there is a portfolio of assets involved, the couple has children or shared business ventures, or there is conflict in terms of why the marriage is ending or whether it should ever have been considered valid. 

At the Law Offices of Adria. S. Hillman, we specialize exclusively in matrimonial and family law. We have extensive experience in working on complex cases and we understand exactly what it takes to achieve the best outcomes for our clients. If you have questions about ending your marriage, or you need advice about how to pursue a divorce or obtain an annulment, our expert team is on hand to help. We can provide you with all the information you need and discuss your situation in detail to identify and implement the best strategy. 


Divorce and annulment are ways of ending a marriage. There are similarities, but there are also crucial differences for individuals to be aware of when deciding what to do when their relationship breaks down. A divorce is a legal process, which ends the marriage. An annulment is another form of legal procedure, which declares a marriage void. There are strict criteria in place governing access to an annulment in New York state courts. 
If you need advice, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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