What is the Difference between a Divorce and an Annulment in Pennsylvania?
An annulment is a declaration by a Court that a marriage never existed – it was never valid. Divorce makes the opposite assumption: the marriage was valid, but should now be terminated.
What are the Grounds for Annulment in Pennsylvania
The grounds for annulment are found in the statutes, and include the following:
- Either spouse had, at the time of the marriage, an existing spouse, and that marriage had not been terminated by divorce or annulment.
- The parties are too closely related. In Pennsylvania, first cousins may not marry.
- Either party was incapable of consenting, because of a serious mental disorder, or other reason.
- Either party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony.
- Either party was under age 16, unless the marriage was authorized by a court.
- Either party was 16 or 17 years of age, unless the marriage was consented to by a parent or guardian, or authorized by a court.
- Either party to the marriage was (at the time of the marriage) and still is incurably impotent, unless the condition was known to the other party prior to the marriage.
- One party was induced to enter into the marriage due to fraud, duress, coercion or force attributable to the other party.
The last of these grounds has been given a narrow interpretation by the Pennsylvania Courts. Annulments are not granted lightly; some form of extreme conduct is required, as well as prompt action by the other party.
If you have questions about grounds for annulment, you should schedule a consultation with a divorce lawyer who can review the facts of your case in detail.
Advantages and disadvantages of Annulment or Divorce
An annulment cuts off the rights of the other spouse in terms of support or alimony, and limits rights to division of property.
Annulment is more difficult and expensive than a no-fault divorce. A hearing is required, which takes time and costs money. In most Pennsylvania counties, a person seeking an annulment would need to pay the cost of the hearing, as well as their own attorney fees.
Annulment may affect other legal rights, such as the right to keep receive Social Security benefits on the spouse’s account. It does not affect rights to child custody or child support, however.
A civil annulment is entirely different from a religious annulment. It is not necessary to obtain a civil annulment before pursuing a Catholic Church annulment; the Church does require that the civil marriage be terminated, whether by divorce or annulment. After this has happened, a Church Tribunal determines whether there are religious grounds for annulment.