Annulment vs. Divorce in California



In California, if you are looking to end a marriage, you can generally take two avenues to legally end the marriage. The first avenue is filing for divorce, and the second avenue is filing for an annulment. There are important similarities and distinctions between these two, and deciding the best path forward will depend primarily on the unique circumstances of your case.

Annulment vs. Divorce – What’s the Difference

There are a number of similarities between getting a divorce and an annulment. For example, both a divorce and an annulment carry the legal effect of dissolving a marriage. However, there are notable distinctions you should be aware of to help in deciding what option makes sense for you. One of the biggest distinctions is that a divorce ends a marriage, while an annulment essentially means the marriage never existed. Another distinction is that the type of evidence necessary to obtain a divorce vs. annulment is quite different.

In addition to different evidentiary standards between annulment vs. divorce, you should consider the ramifications of getting an annulment vs. divorce. For example, since an annulment carries the effect of making the marriage effectively disappear as though it never happened, it means you likely lose any right to any type of support. With a few exceptions, spousal maintenance, community property rights, pension benefits, and other legal rights are generally not available to either party when a marriage is annulled. In contrast, you remain eligible to pursue spousal support and other benefits if you get a divorce.

As you can see, annulment vs. divorce can turn into a difficult choice with each carrying various costs and benefits. Therefore, the decision needs to be carefully considered based on the specific circumstances of your particular case.

The Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce

As mentioned, the biggest difference between an annulment vs. divorce is the evidentiary standard that applies to each. If you opt to file for divorce, you have the option to file a fault divorce or a no-fault divorce. Common grounds cited for a fault divorce include:

  • Adultery;
  • Imprisonment, or
  • Abandonment.

If you opt to file for a no-fault divorce, in order for the divorce to be granted, neither party is required to prove fault on the part of their spouse.  In contrast, an annulment is only granted under very specific, limited circumstances, and those circumstances must be proven in a court of law. This is generally why annulments are so rare.

What Qualifies a Marriage for Annulment?

The legal grounds for obtaining an annulment include the following:

  • One or both spouses were unable to make a rational decision to marry due to a mental disability or intoxication.
  • One or both spouses were already married at the time of the marriage (i.e., bigamy).
  • One or both spouses were not of legal age to marry.
  • The marriage was incestuous.
  • One or both spouses were forced or coerced into getting married.
  • One spouse concealed a significant issue from the other, such as substance use, criminal history, or an illness.

Procedure to Obtain a Divorce vs. Annulment

The process for obtaining an annulment is similar to the process involved in filing for divorce. For example, a spouse must first file a “Petition for Annulment” with the court in the appropriate county in order to obtain an annulment in California. A similar petition must be filed if you are pursuing a divorce. An annulment petition includes background information about the spouses’ marriage:

  • Reason(s) for the annulment
  • Proposed terms for the annulment

After the Petition for Annulment is filed in the proper court, the filing spouse has, from the date of filing, 30 days to notify the other spouse of the petition and formally serve them. From the time of receipt, the other spouse then has 30 days to file an answer or response to the petition. If the annulment is uncontested, a court hearing will be set, and a judge will issue an annulment decree (if the annulment petition is drafted correctly and meets one of the legal standards for annulling a marriage, as described above). Until the court has entered the decree, the marriage is not annulled.


As you can see, there are important distinctions between annulment vs. divorce and what path should be pursued. If you have questions about whether it makes sense to pursue an annulment or divorce, the Castro Law Offices, P.C. is here to help. Jeremy Castro is a skilled Marin County divorce lawyer with a deep understanding of the California laws pertaining to divorce, annulment, and related issues such as child custody and spousal support. Contact his office today so Jeremy can go to work for you.

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