Divorce and annulment may seem like two words for the same outcome, but in fact the legal understanding of each term is quite different. Divorce terminates a marriage, formally ending a relationship through the courts. An annulment declares that a marriage never existed to begin with, due to undisclosed information that would have prevented the union from ever occurring in the first place. Divorce and annulment will both sever legal ties to a relationship, freeing spouses to remarry if desired.
Divorce and annulment are not usually treated as the same thing by the courts. In an annulment, spousal support or alimony is generally not a consideration, since the marriage is now decreed never to have existed. There may be some exceptions to this rule, particularly if the marriage lasted for many years. If a couple that gets an annulment has joint assets and children, however, division of property, liability, custody, and child support will usually be decided in court or through a joint divorce agreement. An annulment does not void parental responsibility for the care of children, unless paternity is disproved.
The legal reasons allowed for people seeking divorce and annulment are also quite different. In most cases, annulment is the result of fraud or misinformation, whether intentional or accidental, on the part of at least one spouse. There are many reasons for annulment that may be acceptable in some jurisdictions, such as lying about age, criminal past, assets, or identity. Failure to disclose mental or physical illnesses, including infertility, may be grounds for an annulment. Revelation of bigamy is also a commonly allowed reason to seek an annulment.
Reasons for divorce tend to involve a refusal of one or both partners to hold up marital agreements and responsibilities. In “no fault” regions, couples merely need to state that they have differences that are irreconcilable in order to obtain a divorce. In "fault" divorce regions, abandonment, adultery, and physical, emotional, or mental abuse may be viable grounds. In order for a divorce to occur, as opposed to an annulment, there needs to be an presupposition of fact that the marriage existed legally in order for it to reach the point where the marriage contract could be violated.
Another distinction that separates divorce and annulment is that, while both are civil procedures, an annulment may also be sought from a religious organization. In some religions, a person can only remarry in the eyes of the church if he or she has a church annulment as well as a civil divorce or annulment. The reasons for allowing a church annulment will depend on religious doctrines, and a church annulment is not a substitute for legal proceedings.