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.

How Does Annulment Work in California?

Ending a marriage is one of the hardest decisions you can make in your life. It is an emotional time for all involved, and tempers can run high. In a tough situation such as this, it is important to not let your emotions get the better of you and to carefully approach your next steps, legally. 

There are three legal options available in marital separation in the state of California. They are divorce, annulment, and legal separation.

A separation does not end your marriage. Instead, it gives the parties in a marriage particular rights as individuals instead of a couple. A divorce and an annulment, on the other hand, will legally terminate the marriage.

Today, we will take a closer look at grounds and process of annulment in California, and compare it to a standard divorce.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Divorce and annulment are two different processes with a variety of outcomes. The important thing to remember is that there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution for any problem, which means each situation requiring legal advice should be considered individually. 


When you file for divorce, the courts legally terminate a valid marriage. After the divorce is final, each party will be considered single. The law still recognizes the existence of the marriage but acknowledges that it ended because of irreconcilable differences.


An annulment effectively cancels a marriage, and once complete, the law doesn’t recognize that the marriage ever existed. While annulments aren’t as complicated as divorces, there are specific requirements that a case must meet to be eligible.

Grounds for an Annulment

Certain situations can occur that would deem a marriage invalid. Some reasons a judge may grant an annulment request are:

  • If the couple is blood-related
  • If one spouse was already legally married at the time of a second marriage
  • If the person requesting the annulment was younger than 18 years old when they entered the marriage
  • If the marriage is the result of fraud on the part of one of the parties
  • If either spouse was forced into the marriage
  • If either spouse had a mental condition (temporary or permanent) that prevented them from understanding what they were doing when entering the marriage
  • If either party was incapable of consummating the marriage

The spouse asking for the annulment must prove to the judge that one of the above situations existed at the time of the marriage. If sufficient evidence does not exist, the judge will not grant the annulment.

Statute of Limitations for an Annulment

It’s important to know that there is a statute of limitations on when you can file an annulment. The reason for the annulment determines the statute of limitations.

  • Pre-Existing Marriage — Any time as long as both parties are still alive
  • Underage — Four years after the party turns 18
  • Fraud — Four years after discovering the fraud
  • Unsound Mind — Any time
  • Force — Four years after the marriage
  • Physical or Mental Incapacity — Four years after the marriage

The Annulment Process

Similar to a divorce, there is a process that you need to follow to get an annulment. 

First, you have to file your request with the courts in your county before the statute of limitations runs out.

The petition requires a background of your marriage, an explanation of why you are requesting an annulment, and other terms you want to be included in the court’s decision. You also have the option to request a divorce if the courts cannot approve an annulment.

After that, you must complete a summons to notify your spouse within 30 days of filing for an annulment. They then have 30 days to respond. The annulment must be uncontested, and you and your spouse will be required to attend a court hearing. If your request is valid and you have submitted the proper documentation, the courts will grant the annulment.

How Paternity is Affected

Since the marriage is essentially “erased” when the judge grants the annulment, any children born during the “marriage” are considered born to a single mother. Because of this, you will need the judge to establish paternity for any children you have together. After establishing paternity, you can ask the judge to include custody, visitation, and child support in the annulment.

How Property and Debt Are Affected

Since the marriage will be deemed invalid, the community property laws that apply during a divorce do not apply to annulments. It also means that neither spouse has the right to spousal support or any portion of the other party’s retirement or pension benefits.

Let Our Experienced Team Represent You!

Dissolving a marriage can be difficult. Naturally, you want to put it all behind you and start with a clean slate. But proving that you have a valid reason for an annulment can be difficult, and having an experienced attorney by your side can make all the difference.

The partners at Azemika & Azemika have over 56 years of combined experience in Kern County Family Law. Our experience has allowed us to successfully handle some of the most challenging Bakersfield family law cases. We will aggressively represent you in the courtroom to help you reach your desired results.

Contact us today for a consultation.