When you can get an annulment instead of a divorce.

Like a divorce, an annulment is a court procedure that dissolves a marriage. But, unlike a divorce, an annulment treats the marriage as though it never happened. For some people, divorce carries a stigma, and they would prefer to have their marriage annulled. Others prefer an annulment because it may be easier to remarry in their church if they go through an annulment rather than a divorce.

There are two types of annulment: civil annulment (by the state government) and religious annulment (by a church).

Grounds for Civil Annulment

Grounds for civil annulment vary slightly from state to state. Generally, an annulment requires that at least one of the following reasons exists:

Misrepresentation or fraud. For example, if a spouse lied about her capacity to have children, that she had reached the age of consent, or that she was not married to someone else, an annulment could be granted.

Concealment. For example, if a spouse concealed an addiction to alcohol or drugs, a felony conviction, children from a prior relationship, a sexually transmitted disease, or impotency, an annulment might be granted.

Refusal or inability to consummate the marriage. Refusal or inability of a spouse to have sexual intercourse with the other spouse can be grounds for an annulment.

Misunderstanding. For example, if one person wanted children and the other did not, an annulment might be granted.

Most annulments take place after marriages of a very short duration — a few weeks or months — so there are usually no assets or debts to divide, or children for whom custody, visitation, and child support are a concern.

When a long-term marriage is annulled, however, most states have provisions for dividing property and debts, as well as determining custody, visitation, child support, and alimony. Children of an annulled marriage are not considered illegitimate.

Religious Annulments

Within the Roman Catholic Church, a couple may obtain a religious annulment after obtaining a civil divorce, so that one or both people may remarry, within the church or anywhere else, and have the second union recognized by the church. The grounds for annulments in the Catholic Church are different than for civil annulments.