Divorce and annulment are both designed to legally dissolve a marriage. A divorce ends a marriage while an annulment voids the original marriage contract, as if the marriage never occurred. If you are deciding between the two, it is important to fully understand their differences.

There are many reasons for getting an annulment, with the most common reason being for religious purposes. For many people, divorce is against their religion, making an annulment their only option. Along with religious reasons, some people get a marriage annulled because they simply don’t want to carry the perceived stigma of having been divorced. One of the differences between annulment and divorce is a matter of semantics. You are considered divorced if you have been divorced, but you are considered unmarried if you get an annulment.

To receive an annulment, you must be able to demonstrate that the marriage was invalid from the start and, therefore, should be voided. Valid reasons include: (1) Party is over age 16 but under 18; (2) impotency; (3) under influence of alcohol or narcotics; fraud, duress, or force was used to induce the person to enter into the marriage; (4) lack of mental capacity; (5) concealed divorce; or (6) marriage less than 72 hours after issuance of license.

The following marriages are void on their face (annulment does not apply):  (1) one party to the marriage is related to the other (consanguinity); or (2) marriage occurred during the existence of a prior marriage (but may become valid if, after the date of the dissolution of the prior marriage, the parties have lived together as husband and wife and represented themselves to others as being married).

Many people will opt for a divorce because they believe divorce no longer carries the social stigma that it once did. An annulment can imply that one person did something wrong before the marriage, while many states allow no-fault divorces which do not require either party to prove wrongdoing.

The choice of whether to get an annulment or a divorce depends on your specific situation, and you and your spouse must agree on which one is best for you. Either a divorce or an annulment still requires you to address issues of child custody, spousal support, and property division.