Most people have heard both terms – divorce and annulment. But few people really know what the difference is, or when one is more appropriate than the other. This is important for married couples who are considering going their separate ways. In this post, a Washington, DC divorce lawyer will explain each concept and the rules that govern each.
What is Divorce?
A divorce is a legal end, or dissolution, of a marriage. The person who initiates the divorce by filing divorce papers is the plaintiff. The other spouse will be the defendant. A divorce can either be contested or uncontested:
- Contested: If the couple cannot come to an agreement on major or minor issues relative to the divorce, then it is considered contested.
- Uncontested: If the couple can come to an agreement about major issues relative to the divorce – property division, child custody, etc. – then the divorce is uncontested.
In order to file for divorce in D.C., you must meet three requirements:
- Residency: You and/or your spouse must have lived in D.C. for at least the past six months.
- Proof of Marriage: In order to get divorced, you must have been legally married. You must provide a certified copy of your original marriage certificate.
- Grounds for Divorce: D.C. is a no-fault jurisdiction, and there are only two grounds for divorce:
- Mutual and voluntary separation for at least six months with no sexual relations.
- One year of separation, mutually agreed upon or not, for at least one year with no sexual relations.
If you meet the requirements, you can then file your divorce papers. The papers you file with the court are called the Complaint about Absolute Divorce. These papers include all details about your separation and divorce from your spouse. It is important to make sure the terms of your divorce are final because you can’t go back and change the terms later once a judge has signed off. The exception is that you can go back and ask the judge to make or modify child custody or support orders.
What is Annulment?
There are many misconceptions about annulment thanks to the media, culture, and religious views. In terms of family law, an annulment is a civil process that determines marital status. The difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce ends an existing and legally valid marriage. An annulment, on the other hand, declares that what was thought to be a marriage was never one at all.
An annulment means that, in the eyes of the law, the marriage never really existed. In D.C., there are a few reasons, or grounds, for asking the court to annul a marriage. The most common include:
- The spouses are closely related or are blood-related. In these cases, the marriage is “void ab initio”, meaning it was never valid.
- One spouse was already married to someone else (bigamy).
- One spouse did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage due to mental incompetence.
- One or both spouses only consented to the marriage on the basis of force or fraud from someone else.
- When the marriage occurred, one spouse was under age 16, and after the marriage, the younger spouse was not voluntarily living with the other.
Similar to a divorce, an annulment is a process that must go through court in order to be official. Anyone currently living in D.C. can file for an annulment. If one spouse is under 18, his or her parents can also ask the court to annul the marriage.
D.C. does recognize the concept of “fault” when considering annulment. Which means if one spouse wrongs the other, he or she cannot then request an annulment. Instead, they must pursue a divorce.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Divorce or Annulment?
Because divorce and annulment are both legal processes that must go through court, it is a good idea to discuss your situation with a lawyer before filing any documents. This is especially true if there are children involved. A Washington, D.C. divorce lawyer can tell you if you qualify for divorce or annulment, and how best to proceed.