Few couples account for the possibility they may someday be driven to divorce. While a prenuptial agreement or other legal arrangement could ease the financial burdens of separation, the process of securing a divorce is rarely without complication. Consequently, couples seeking to dissolve a marriage often explore alternatives to divorce. Under certain, limited circumstances, New York courts can annul a marriage, immediately dissolving it without any need for protracted legal proceedings.
The Difference Between Divorce and Annulment
For all practical purposes, divorce and annulment both have the same effect: once approved and enacted, they dissolve the marriage. However, divorce and annulment differ in how the courts consider each of the former spouses. When two people are divorced, the marriage is still recognized and each party is considered to have been previously married. Conversely, an annulment is—in effect—a determination that the marriage was fundamentally illegitimate and thus never legal to begin with.
When permissible, annulments are often preferred to divorce for the following reasons:
- No waiting period. While New York does not compel spouses to attempt reconciliation before initiating a divorce, the process of separation is nonetheless time-consuming. On average, Empire State residents spend 10 months in divorce proceedings.
- Reduced financial liabilities. Since the marriage will be considered invalid, any debts or shared liabilities accumulated by the couple could be divided equally between the former partners.
- Putative fees. If the marriage was predicated upon fraud or coercion, the party who believed that the marriage was legitimate could petition for spousal support and attorney fees.
Annulments are also preferred over divorces when one or both spouses stand to benefit from being able to maintain they have never been married. Religious persons, for instance, may find the prospect of divorce morally objectionable and might therefore be inclined to seek formal recognition that the marriage was never valid.
However, securing an annulment can prove difficult, as the Empire State typically only grants requests for annulment under very specific circumstances.
Eligibility for an Annulment
Since annulments are only granted when a marriage is found to have been illegitimate, any person seeking an annulment should be able to prove one of the following:
- One or both of the spouses was already married at the time of the marriage.
- One of the spouses became permanently incapacitated within five years of the marriage’s solemnization.
- The marriage could not be physically consummated because of a permanent and irreversible sexual dysfunction.
- The marriage was predicated on fraud or coercion, insofar as one of the spouses was unable to consent to the union, or would not have consented to the union if not for deception.
When considering an annulment, the court may ask for compelling evidence in support of the petitioner’s claim, such as documentation that the other spouse was already married or a medical report indicating that the other partner is incapacitated and unlikely to ever recover.
Appealing an Annulment Decision
Since New York courts only grant annulments under very certain circumstances, any petition which does not clearly or adequately demonstrate eligibility is likely to be denied.
However, even if the annulment is not approved, spouses can still appeal the decision.