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Why to Get an Annulment Instead of a Divorce
relationships

Why to Get an Annulment Instead of a Divorce

Leigh Anderson, Gawker Media

Sam Woolley

Ten years ago, I muscled a guy down the aisle. We had been together for six years, the relationship was becalmed, and I had pretty much decided that marriage was the only thing that would blow us out of our doldrums: We'd be official, we'd have kids, we'd have a decent set of dish towels. He reluctantly agreed.

Now, you know where this is going: Within literally days of our May wedding (thank heavens, a simple affair at City Hall), it was clear we'd made a mistake. By July he'd moved out, and by the fall we'd met with a family lawyer to discuss our options for separating. At that time New York didn't have no-fault divorce, so she suggested an annulment to spare us having to lie and say that one party was abusive or somehow otherwise majorly at fault. The legal paperwork was relatively quick and easy, and by Valentine's Day our marriage had legally never happened. I always think of it as something like Madeleine L'Engle's wrinkling time through a tesseract: Our marriage happened, but it also didn't. La la la! Do-over!

Now all fifty states have no-fault divorce, but some couples still get annulments instead of divorces. To get a better understanding of why, I spoke to Rachel Green, the Brooklyn-based attorney who handled my own annulment a decade ago.

New Shit Has Come to Light  

At least under New York law (and likely other states, according to this summary ), in order to get an annulment, you have to demonstrate that you know something now that would have stopped you from entering into the marriage had you known it earlier. (Insert standard marriage joke here.) Fraud obviously falls into this category-your spouse was already married and couldn't legally enter into the marriage; they have an enormous debt you didn't know about; they lied about where they live/who they are/what they want. Green says, "You have to be willing to say in the papers, 'the other person hid this from me, because they sensed that I wouldn't have married them had they told me about that.'"

Green gave an example of a husband saying that he planned to move from Texas to Florida, but after the marriage it came to light that he really had no real intention of ever moving. Or that one spouse turns out to be much more religious than they had let on. In our case, my ex changed his mind about having kids after our wedding, and I wouldn't have married him if I known that kids were definitely not in our future.

You Don't Want the Stigma of a Divorce...

Certainly being a divorcee (or divorce) carries less of a stigma now than it did fifty years ago. But for some people, a divorce is a public admission of failure. "There still is a pejorative connotation for divorce that people feel is not there for annulment," says Green. "They don't have to say they're divorced because technically they're not divorced." This is particularly relevant for someone who has been the victim of fraud-you don't want to check that "divorced" box for the rest of your life because someone pulled a fast one on you.

...Or You Want to Cast Blame  

Divorce has also lost some of its pejorative context-all fifty states now have no-fault divorce, for good reason: Sometimes a marriage just goes south, or goes stale, and it's not really anyone's fault. But sometimes one person is clearly at fault, and the other person wants to make that known publicly.

Green gave an example of a client of hers whose husband became violent shortly after their wedding. He had never hit her before, but they had a fight on their honeymoon, and he punched her. He confessed to her that he had had other violent relationships that he had hidden from her, and she filed for annulment.

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Green describes the wife's reaction as "'Now I'm going to have to be divorced because you hit me? I'm going to have check the "D" box on every form forever? No, this is on you.' It was very important to her to not be divorced, not be blamed, and make sure he was the bad guy." The legal technical term is "fraud in the inducement"-you committed fraud to induce me to marry you.

You're Religious

If you want to get remarried in the Catholic church, you need to get your marriage annulled by the church. It's okay to have a civil divorce and a religious annulment and still get remarried in the church, but some people might want the whole shebang. Generally, though, legal annulments are for short marriages (unless there's been a decades-long fraud, like a secret life or second family).

Division of Property Is an Issue

Depending on the property laws in your state, how your marital assets are divided can be a sticking point. In New York, at least, each spouse is entitled to 50% of the assets that are accumulated during the marriage. If you get an annulment, this is not necessarily the case. Green gives an example of someone who sees their business, during the marriage, really start to take off. In a marriage, each spouse is entitled to a percentage of the business. So the business-owner might prefer an annulment to a divorce (the other spouse might obviously feel different).

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So should you get an annulment instead of a divorce? Maybe-it depends on your personal beliefs and your individual situation. For more information, this is a good brief summary . As in all things legal, your first stop should be a family lawyer to explore your options.

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