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 rather their marriage be 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.

Grounds for 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, a spouse lied about the capacity to have children, falsely stated that she had reached the age of consent, or failed to say that she was still married to someone else.

Concealment — for example, concealing an addiction to alcohol or drugs, conviction of a felony, children from a prior relationship, a sexually transmitted disease, or impotency.

Refusal or inability to consummate the marriage — that is, refusal or inability of a spouse to have sexual intercourse with the other spouse.

Misunderstanding — for example, one person wanted children and the other did not.

These are the grounds for civil 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.

Most annulments take place after a marriage 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.

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