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Is there a difference between a divorce and an annulment?

If you're a native speaker of the English language, then you probably use a lot of words interchangeably. That's because the denotative meaning, or the definition found in the dictionary, for one word might be similar enough to another word to allow you to use the terms synonymously in everyday speech.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for legal terms. Take for example the terms divorce and annulment. For a lot of people in Massachusetts and across the nation, these terms both refer to the ending of a marriage. This means they're both the same, right? If you thought this, then you might be surprised to learn this isn't the case. So what's the difference between a divorce and an annulment, you might ask? Let's take a look.

Although both terms are legal processes that end a marriage, a divorce and an annulment are two completely different processes. With a divorce, a separation is requested based on fault or no-fault. Most couples categorize their divorce as no-fault in our state and typically cite "irretrievable breakdown" as the reason for wanting to dissolve the marriage. To establish fault, a spouse must prove specific grounds for ending the marriage such as adultery or abusive treatment, just to name a few.

Annulments work a little differently though. With divorces, although the court is ending the marriage, they are still acknowledging that it occurred. With an annulment, the courts are saying that the marriage never happened, which means the courts need to be presented with clear proof as to why a marriage should be voided.

There are only a few situations that can lead to an annulment, which is why getting a marriage annulled is typically considered more difficult than getting a divorce. Grounds for an annulment may include one spouse still having a valid marriage with one person while still being married to someone else or because the marriage was entered into for fraudulent reasons, to name two.

Whether you're considering a divorce or an annulment, you should also consider obtaining a lawyer before beginning the legal process. That's because the laws have been known to change, which is something most lawyers keep up on. The law is also very complex, meaning if you do not have the right legal background, you might not have the knowledge necessary to handle your case properly on your own.

Source: The Massachusetts Court System, "Who Can Get an Annulment?" Accessed March 11, 2015

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