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Annulment vs Divorce in California (2024) – What’s the Difference?

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Nov 14, 2022

It is common in any language for words to be used interchangeably when they have distinct meanings. Although this is often harmless, in some situations it can cause significant confusion. When it comes to legal cases, it is especially important that the definition of certain terms be clear to everyone involved.

Annulment and divorce are two terms that are often used interchangeably or incorrectly. In the eyes of the law, however, they are extremely different, and the definitions are important. If you are thinking of separating from a spouse, you should be especially aware of your options as well as key definitions associated with the divorce or annulment processes.


Many people have experienced or understand divorce. A divorce is the dissolution of a marriage. This means that two people were married and shared a life, but they no longer wish to do so. The court helps the couple separate their assets and belongings, determine what will happen with their children, and set them up for a new life as unmarried individuals. If an individual is to remarry, they must disclose to the county clerk that they have been married before when they get their marriage license.


Annulment is much different. This process can only occur if the validity of the marriage is called into question. Some example scenarios include:

  • One of the members of the couple discovers that their spouse has withheld key information about their identity.
  • One member of the marriage is under the age of 18 and did not get a guardian’s permission.
  • One member of the marriage was already married to another person.
  • One member of the marriage deceived the other in a way that would have prevented them from getting married had the other spouse known the truth.
  • One party suffered from mental illness or temporary insanity at the time of the marriage.
  • One party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the marriage occurred.

If a couple gets an annulment, the process aims to erase the marriage altogether rather than simply ending it. An annulment labels the marriage as void and states that the union was never legal to begin with.

Key Distinctions Between Annulment and Divorce

The main distinction between annulment and divorce is the legality of the situation. Divorces acknowledge that the marriage was legally binding and legitimate but that one or both spouses no longer wish to be married to the other. In these situations, the marriage dissolves. If a couple gets an annulment, they must prove that there was something illegal about the marriage, which means that it was never legally binding. If a couple gets an annulment, it is essentially erased altogether.

Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP: Irvine Annulment and Divorce Attorneys

Whether you are facing an annulment or a divorce, it is important to have an Irvine attorney to help you navigate the process. Both situations can be very complicated and require expert attention to detail. Our team has years of experience in family law, and we can help you parse through your situation and move forward with confidence. We can be your advocates in court to ensure that your voice is heard.

If you go through the annulment or divorce process without an attorney, you are vulnerable to a myriad of difficult situations. Many times, individuals without representation end up with smaller settlements, unfavorable child custody or support agreements, and more. It is important to hire an attorney for both annulments and divorces.


Q: What Is the Difference Between Getting a Marriage Annulled and a Divorce?

A: In a divorce, you are ending a marriage, but you are not denying that it happened, nor are you denying that it was legal. In an annulment, you are claiming that your marriage was never legally binding and attempting to have it voided by the court. It is far more common for a couple to be eligible for a divorce rather than an annulment. Annulments are relatively uncommon and require that the couple meet specific criteria.

Q: What Qualifies You for an Annulment in California?

A: There are several scenarios that qualify a couple for annulment, including:

  • You find out or acknowledge that you and your spouse are blood relatives.
  • One spouse was already married at the time of the wedding.
  • One party was not 18 and did not have the permission of a guardian.
  • One spouse committed fraud to enter into the marriage.
  • “Incurable physical incapacity.” In most cases, this means that one party has impotence, which makes sexual relations impossible.

Q: Why Do People Prefer Annulment Over Divorce?

A: Many people prefer annulments because there are far fewer issues to handle than there are in a divorce. Once an annulment is granted, they can move on as if the marriage never happened. However, there are lingering issues and restrictions after a divorce. Divorce is often expensive, while annulment is usually not. Annulment also gets individuals out of dangerous situations much more quickly than divorce can.

Q: What Is the Disadvantage of Annulment?

A: The main disadvantage of an annulment is that not everyone is eligible. Many couples do not meet the criteria for an annulment and must go through divorce instead. If there was no illegal aspect of the marriage itself, divorce is the only option. Annulment can also result in other legal issues if one or both parties committed a significant crime that made their marriage eligible for annulment.

Contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP

If you are trying to end your marriage, it is important to find an attorney who understands your needs, is compassionate toward your situation, and helps you navigate the complete legal landscape of divorce or annulment. Our team offers expert legal services in both annulment and divorce, and we can represent you as you detangle yourself from your marriage. Although both processes are difficult, we can help you navigate them with ease. No other area law firm has the same level of experience and service.

For more information, contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP.

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