What Is the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?

Posted On February 10, 2023 Divorce,Family Law

Spouses have two options for dissolving a marriage or domestic partnership: divorce and annulment. Here are the differences between the two.

Definition of an Annulment

An annulment is a court order stating that your marriage was not valid from the start. This means that, according to the law, you and your partner were not actually married. An annulment is sometimes called a declaration that your marriage is “void” or a “nullity.”

Definition of Divorce

A divorce or dissolution of marriage is a legal process that terminates the marital rights and responsibilities between spouses. It will substantially affect each spouse’s financial and personal life. Issues commonly involved are the division of assets and debts, spousal maintenance (support), the welfare of any children of the marriage, and tax consequences.

Grounds for Annulment vs. Divorce

“Grounds” refers to the legal basis for an action, or reasons why an annulment or divorce is justified. For example, in Washington, the grounds for an annulment or divorce are as follows:


Declaring a marriage invalid or getting an annulment is only an option for Washington spouses if one of the following legal grounds can be met:

  • Underage: One spouse was younger than 18 or was 17 but did not have a parent’s consent.
  • Incompetence: A spouse was incapable of consenting to the marriage (e.g., mentally ill, intoxicated, or otherwise incapacitated).
  • Duress: One spouse felt undue pressure to get married.
  • Fraud: A spouse entered into marriage because they were defrauded by the other, and without the fraud, the marriage would not have taken place. Examples include hiding a venereal disease, a pregnancy from another person, or a spouse being unable to engage in sexual intercourse.
  • Force: One spouse felt threatened or was physically forced to marry.
  • Bigamy: A spouse is already married.
  • Incest: The spouses are related and closer than first cousins.

When a Washington court finds a marriage to be invalid, it is as if the marriage never took place. Additionally, there is no waiting period before an annulment can be granted. However, you will have to prove your case by submitting evidence to support your grounds for annulment, and you may call witnesses.


The only legally acceptable grounds for divorce in Washington are that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” since Washington is a no-fault divorce state. One spouse must also be a resident of the state and a divorce will take at least 90 days before it will be granted. However, spouses do not have to provide evidence to prove grounds for divorce.

You can find more answers to commonly asked questions here.

After an Annulment vs. After a Divorce

When seeking an annulment, spouses will not be granted spousal support, property division, or compensation for attorney fees unless the case goes to court and it is discovered that one spouse committed fraud. However, issues related to child custody will be determined similar to a divorce. During a divorce, a spouse can pursue spousal support. Additionally, in special cases where one spouse has a low income, the court may award a certain fee that can be placed toward attorney fees.

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