What’s the Difference Between Annulments & Divorces?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

April 8, 2023

Marriage can come to an end for many different reasons. However, legally, there are only limited ways to terminate a union. Knowing the difference between a divorce and an annulment is essential so you can decide what is best for your situation. You should also consult a divorce lawyer who will evaluate your circumstances and help you determine how to move forward.

Annulments or Divorce: What’s the Difference?

Two ways to end a marriage in North Carolina are divorce and annulment. There are similarities and differences between each of these.

What Is a Divorce?

A divorce legally dissolves or terminates a valid marriage. It declares the marriage to be over, and the spouses are single again. The marriage must have been legally valid in the first place for a divorce to be appropriate.

What Is an Annulment?

An annulment is a legal order that declares a marriage null and void. While marriage records will remain on file, the marriage was never valid. An annulment essentially cancels this marriage since it was not legitimate or honest.

When Can You End Your Marriage

There are certain grounds for divorce or annulment, and they are not interchangeable.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce?

North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. That means you don’t have to have any grounds for divorce. However, if you do have a reason, such as adultery or domestic violence, then you can get a divorce from bed and board, which is similar to a legal separation.

Under either type of divorce, you can get a court order for child support, child custody and visitation, alimony and spousal support, and property division.

Why Seek an Annulment?

You must have a specific reason for seeking an annulment. There are seven grounds for annulment in North Carolina:

  • Incest
  • Underage marriage without the consent of parents
  • Bigamous marriage
  • Diagnosed impotence not revealed before the marriage
  • Lack of consent or duress
  • Mental illness not revealed before the marriage
  • The mistaken belief of pregnancy

If your marriage involved any of these situations, then you may be able to get it annulled by a court.

What’s the Process of Ending My Marriage?

The process of ending a marriage by divorce vs. annulment is somewhat different.

Ending a Marriage by Divorce

To end a marriage by divorce, you need to meet North Carolina requirements, which include:

  • One spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months
  • The spouses must have lived apart for at least one year

You will need to file a complaint and serve it along with a summons on your spouse. They will have 30 days to respond. Then, your divorce attorney will help you develop a divorce agreement. If you cannot agree about the essential elements of your divorce, the court will decide for you. Your divorce will be finalized at a hearing, where you will answer questions about your intentions and understanding.

Ending a Marriage by Annulment

An annulment declares a marriage invalid, but because you must have specific grounds for annulment, it can be more difficult to obtain. Additionally, the court does not have the authority to establish spousal support or divide property equitably because there was never a marital estate.

To get an annulment in North Carolina, you must be separated from your spouse for at least one year. Then, you can petition the court to declare your marriage invalid. If you get an annulment and have shared possessions, you may have to take your ex to court to determine legal ownership.

What Are the Outcomes of a Divorce or Annulment?

A court or divorce agreement can establish the outcome of a divorce. You can determine child support, child custody and visitation, alimony and spousal support, and property division. However, a court cannot resolve things like alimony or spousal support and property division in an annulment. Child support and custody can be decided, but they would not be related to the annulment.

The ultimate outcome of both a divorce and an annulment is the termination of a union. A divorce ends a valid marriage. An annulment declares the marriage invalid from the beginning.

Turn to Breeden Law Office for Help Ending Your Marriage

The legal team at Breeden Law Office is ready to help every client achieve the best outcome possible. We have the experience and dedication to provide the personalized service you need to determine if a divorce or annulment is right for you.

Call us today at (919) 661-4970 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation for your case.


Divorce In North Carolina: What You Need To Know

A book by Jonathan Breeden