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What Is the Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce?


There are two main ways to dissolve a marriage in Colorado: annulment and divorce. While both effectively end a marriage, they are two distinct processes with very different legal consequences for a couple. With a divorce, each spouse is single but recognized as having been previously married. With an annulment, it is as if the marriage never existed.

What Is an Annulment?

An annulment in Colorado does more than terminate or dissolve a marriage. It does not end a marriage; it makes it so that, legally, the marriage never existed in the first place. It holds that the marriage was never valid to begin with, and therefore never existed. A divorce, on the other hand, does not erase the marriage as if it never happened.

Things may not go back to exactly the way they were prior to marriage after a divorce. Although both spouses will technically be single after a divorce and allowed to remarry, they will retain the legal status of being previously married. This could change aspects of both spouses’ lives, such as taxation and legal matters. After an annulment, however, things will return to exactly the way they were before the marriage.

Note that a religious annulment is different from a legal annulment. In the Catholic Church, the diocese, not a court of law, decides whether or not a couple can obtain an annulment. A diocesan tribunal may grant a religious annulment on grounds of fraud, misrepresentation, lack of maturity or emotional instability. A religious annulment allows a couple to remarry in the Catholic Church.

Who Qualifies for an Annulment in Colorado?

The grounds for annulment vs. divorce are very different. Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, meaning an individual does not have to prove fault to obtain a divorce. Instead, a divorce is typically based on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. To get an annulment in Colorado, however, the filing party must establish legal grounds for doing so. Acceptable grounds for an annulment include:

  • Fraud
  • Misrepresentation of a material fact, such as already being married
  • Concealment of a major fact, such as a felony conviction
  • Misunderstanding
  • Lack of age of consent
  • Lack of mental capacity
  • Duress
  • Impotency
  • Incest

For a marriage to be annulled in Colorado, the courts must see it as either void or voidable. A void marriage was never valid to begin with, such as one involving bigamy or incest. A marriage that is voidable may be able to exist under certain circumstances, such as the consent of an underage party’s legal guardian. In a voidable marriage, it is up to one of the spouses to request the annulment.

Is a Divorce or Annulment Right for You?

The legal processes behind an annulment vs. divorce are also different. In a divorce case, the couple must work out issues such as spousal support and property distribution. In an annulment, these topics may not be open for discussion. In an annulment, everything will go back to the way it was before the marriage. Both spouses will keep the property they had before the marriage, and spousal support is generally not on the table.

With a divorce, on the other hand, the couple will have the chance to work out a settlement arrangement determining these matters, as well as child support and child custody if there are children from the marriage. If the couple cannot work out an arrangement, a judge will make a determination on property division and other matters using relevant state laws during a divorce case.

If you are not sure whether to end your marriage with an annulment or a divorce, contact a family law attorney in Colorado for an in-depth legal consultation. An attorney can carefully review the facts of your case to help you decide which route is best for you and your family. Then, your lawyer can represent you during what may be a complicated legal matter.

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