Annulment vs. Divorce In California: What You Need To Know


Annulment and divorce laws differ from state to state. The State of California has unique guidelines you must follow and specific criteria to meet should you choose to file for a divorce or an annulment.

Opting for an annulment instead of a divorce in California has an entirely different effect on how the relationship is categorized and possible future benefits or consequences.

Suppose you live in California and wonder what the difference is between an annulment and a divorce. This article will outline the fundamental differences and what you need to know.

The Difference Between An Annulment And A Divorce In California

The most common way to end a marriage is through a divorce, defined as the legal dissolution of a marriage. Once a divorce is complete, both people are considered legally single and eligible to remarry legally.

When you go through a divorce, the previous marriage remains on record as having existed. The judge declares that the marriage is dissolved due to irreconcilable differences or one party’s legal incapacity to make decisions.

However, an annulment ultimately states that the former marriage was never permitted in the first place. An annulment completely invalidates the wedding, and the courts will remove all records and evidence of the marriage, which means that the court decrees that the marriage never even happened.

What Is An Annulment In California?

The annulment process in California is very similar to that of a divorce. However, it varies significantly in the final decree. To obtain an annulment in California, one party must first file a Petition for Annulment with the court in the appropriate county. It is essential to file within the applicable timeframe. An annulment in California requires the:

  1. Spouses marriage
  2. Reasons for the annulment
  3. Proposes terms for the annulment

Once the Petition for Annulment has been filed, the filing spouse has 30 days from the filing date to notify the other party of the petition and have them formally served. The other spouse is then allowed 30 days from the time of receipt to file a response or answer to the petition.

Reasons And Statute Of Limitations For Annulment In California

There are several possible reasons why California would allow judges to grant an annulment request, and also a statute of limitations for each circumstance, which includes:

  • They Were Already Married. One party committed bigamy and entered a second marriage while the first marriage was still intact, and you must file for the annulment before the first spouse’s death.
  • Underage Marriage. One party was younger than 18 when the marriage occurred, and you must file for the annulment within four years of turning 18.
  • Forced Marriage. One party was forced to marry against their wishes, and you must file for the annulment within the first four years of marriage.
  • Fraudulent Marriage. One party committed fraud to influence the other person to marry or to get consent for marriage. An example will be if one party marries the other person only to stay in the United States while lying and claiming the traditional reasons for getting married. You must file for the annulment four years from the date that you discover the fraud.
  • Unsound Mind. One or both persons could not consent to the marriage because they are of “unsound mind” at the time of marriage. An example of this will be if someone marries a severely mentally incapacitated person who cannot consent or two people get married while intoxicated. Either party may file for an annulment any time before the death of one person.
  • Physical Incapacity. One or both persons have an incurable physical illness, disease, or incapacitation that will not be resolved soon. If you file an annulment due to your partner’s inability to maintain sexual relations because of physical incapacity, you must do so within the first four years of marriage.

Proof For An Annulment

To obtain an annulment, you must prove to the judge that at least one of the above situations applies. You must also prove that you filed for the annulment within the time allowed for your situation. The requirement of providing proof as a part of the request for the annulment is vastly different from divorce in California, which can be granted on grounds as simple as irreconcilable differences.

Divorce vs. Annulment: Pros and Cons

Annulments have different consequences than traditional divorce. Divorced spouses have specific rights that those who have their marriage annulled will not have, as an annulment concludes that a marriage was never valid from the beginning.

Examples of this include spousal maintenance, pension benefits, community property rights, and other legal rights of divorced spouses that are not generally applicable with an annulment of a marriage. Depending upon your situation, obtaining an annulment could be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

An annulment can also be a more cost-effective way to end a marriage as there aren’t as many legal issues that need resolution as in a divorce. However, if proving the grounds on which you seek an annulment is challenging, or your spouse may contest it, litigation costs and investigator fees for expert witness expenses can quickly add up.

Sometimes getting a divorce is more straightforward as no proof of fault is required. It can be based on irreconcilable differences making it a more economical choice than going through the annulment process.

The annulment process also does not have the exact six-month minimum residency requirement or waiting period you must meet to get a divorce in California. An annulment in California is effective immediately.

Hiring an attorney experienced in California divorce laws to determine your best course of action is essential to save you time, money, and stress.

Azemika & Azemika Law Is Here To Help

At Azemika & Azemika Law, our law firm’s practice is devoted exclusively to family law. We are experts in handling cases involving divorce, annulment, child custody and visitation, division of property, and other family law-related situations, successfully supporting our clients in Bakersfield, California. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.