Note 1: This question is supposed to be a lemma here: Why is it not that a state divorce is actually an argument AGAINST a church annulment petition rather than a necessary condition for such petition? I am hoping to claim:

Whenever annulments are possible, there are incentives to getting an annulment (a civil/secular annulment) instead of a divorce, even if divorce is cheaper.

Question: If you're not in the Philippines or Vatican, why would anyone seek an annulment (as in a secular/civil annulment of course) instead of a divorce? My understanding is that divorce is cheaper, so even your (secular/civil) marriage is invalid, why not just say it's valid and divorce to save money?

I guess we can take cases:

Case 1. The invalidity of your marriage can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Case 2. You're not sure the invalidity of your marriage can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. So, maybe there's a risk of wasting money or time in applying for an annulment, when you'd just be told to divorce instead.

Also, since this is Legal SE, I guess the answer would be in terms of judicial economy, legislative intent, legal consequences (alimony, custody, etc), state interests, etc.

Note 2: replace 'reasonable doubt' with 'preponderance of evidence'/'balance of probabilities' or whatever (wow I'm actually so intrigued about all the levels that I'm discovering just now), if need be. Depends on whatever is the burden of proof standard here.

Also maybe related:

How do Filipino Catholics get a church annulment when their state marriage is valid, considering the Philippines doesn't have divorce?

Marriage invalid. Would a church annulment require a state annulment or state divorce?

  • 1
    There are plenty of reasons to want a marriage declared never valid, and many mean that annulment is far cheaper than divorce. May also have nothing to do with money at all.
    – user4657
    May 28, 2018 at 5:24
  • @Nij Yeah like what are the reasons?
    – BCLC
    May 28, 2018 at 5:32
  • 1
    For starters, divorce commonly means the property is half each. Half of a fortune is still a heck of a lot of money. Would you give that up just because the divorce proceedings are cheaper?
    – user4657
    May 28, 2018 at 5:37
  • 1
    To some people religion important. And even if it is just for show, you cannot be married again (by the Church) if you are divorced. And a divorce might invalidate you for certain positions (King of England, Prince of Monaco).
    – SJuan76
    May 28, 2018 at 7:56
  • 1
    @SJuan76 The King of England is divorced (and re-married), so that doesn't really seem to be a disqualifier. (Maybe it was before Henry VIII.) Oct 28, 2023 at 21:19

2 Answers 2


@Alex listed five reasons. I offer eleven more (some of which might slightly overlap but aren't explored in the same way):

1. The married person lacked the mental capacity to consent to marriage which a guardian or next friend seeks to annul.

Often a court appointed guardian or parent of a person who lacks mental capacity (or is not old enough to legally marry) can seek an annulment of a marriage, but not a divorce. Often a valid marriage would revoke the appointed guardian's appointment by operation of law in favor of the spouse.

2. The other spouse committed a crime or tort against the spouse seeking the annulment.

Historically, spouses had broad immunities from rape and almost all other crimes except murder, committed by a spouse against them, and was not permitted to sue a spouse for civil wrongs (i.e. torts). In more recent times, most developed countries have repealed such marital immunities. But not every jurisdiction has done so and not every jurisdiction that has repealed most marital immunities has repealed all of them.

A divorce does not abrogate marital immunities for actions that took place during the marriage, while an annulment would generally make it possible to bring criminal prosecutions or sue the other spouse for conduct that occurred during the putative marriage.

For example, maybe a boyfriend and girlfriend go on a trip to a place that does not recognize marital rape. The boyfriend gets the girlfriend drunk and drugged causing her to uncomprehendingly agree to sign a marriage certificate. The boyfriend then brutally rapes his girlfriend. If they divorce, he can't be prosecuted. If the marriage is annulled, he can be prosecuted.

3. Divorce may have a waiting period that does not apply to annulment.

Usually, there is no statutory waiting period between the filing of an annulment petition and the soonest time period when it can be granted. If it is not opposed it can be granted immediately, allowing the parties, for example, to remarry immediately, and prevent the putative spouse from being the presumed parent of the child of a pregnant bride (especially when the child has another genetic father).

In contrast, there is often a mandatory waiting period (often three to twenty-four months) before a divorce can be granted.

4. The other spouse may be without fault.

While most jurisdictions (including all U.S. jurisdictions) have some form of no fault divorce, some jurisdictions still have fault based divorce, and if the other spouse is without fault, a divorce may not be available.

5. Marriage would render conduct of a party criminal.

In additional to laws criminalizing incest, there are also laws that criminalize adultery (including those of the U.S. military), laws that criminalize bigamy and other forms of polygamy, laws that criminalize marrying a minor, and laws that criminalize marriages to persons in positions of trust. An annulment could be a defense to these crimes.

6. Marriage could expose someone to tort liability.

Marriage to someone who is divorcing sometimes gives rise to heart balm tort liability which still exists in a few U.S. states, as the person who destroyed someone else's marriage that ended in divorce. Annulment could limit or eliminate that liability in some cases.

Also sometimes a spouse is liable for the other spouse's debts (under the necessities doctrine, for example), and that liability could attach during a brief marriage, but not during a putative marriage which is annulled.

7. To prevent irrevocable loss of an occupation.

Some forms of employment (e.g. as Catholic priests and members of holy orders, and as Orthodox Christian bishops, or historically as one of the Vestal Virgins in pagan Rome) require that one be unmarried at all times. Annulment could prevent the permanent loss of eligibility to serve in such a profession.

8. To prevent a loss of government benefits.

Sometimes a person is qualified for government benefits (such as Medicaid or Social Security survivor's benefits or Section 8 housing benefits) if unmarried, but not if married to a moderately affluent spouse. Marriage could terminate these benefits and it could take a considerable amount of time to regain them following a divorce. Annulment would prevent these benefits from being lost in the first place.

9. Annulment could prevent someone from gaining a spouse's citizenship.

This is the flip side of the "fraud marriage" where someone improperly uses marriage to try to be a citizen. Maybe someone wasn't to not gain a spouse's citizenship.

Some countries grant citizenship to a spouse by operation of law upon marriage (e.g. France, at least historically). But, it could be that there are reasons that being a citizen of that country would be problematic (e.g. if the U.S. were at war with France, French citizens were being put in internment camps, and restoration of citizenship functions of the government have been suspended during the conflict for former French citizens). Annulment could prevent a person from acquiring citizenship by operation of law.

This could also affect the citizenship of their children.

10. Other process considerations.

A divorce typically requires that the parties make full and fair financial disclosures to each other before a separation agreement or divorce decree can be entered. An annulment does not.

Comprehensive financial disclosures, particularly in the case of a very affluent spouse or spouses, can be extremely time consuming, cumbersome, and expensive, and may also require disclosure of secrets that one of the spouse would rather keep secret from their putative spouse and the court.

11. To retain autonomy.

In some countries historically, and in some Islamic countries now (e.g. Saudi Arabia), the rights of married women are very different than the rights of unmarried women, with married women surrendering considerable autonomy to their spouse (e.g. the right to choose a place of domicile or to live separately from a spouse, or to write a will leaving everything to someone other than a spouse at death). Lack of autonomy at a key moment could invalidate an agreement the putatively married spouse entered into. Annulment would validate the agreement or decision.

  • 1
    thanks ohwilleke!
    – BCLC
    May 20, 2021 at 7:03
  • 1
    It may be worth noting that in many cases the purpose of waiting periods for divorce may be in part to ensure that any child conceived before the start of the waiting period would be recognizable as a product of the marriage--exactly the opposite of the outcome that may be sought if e.g. a man who held off on sex before marriage discovers the day after his wedding that his wife is eight weeks pregnant.
    – supercat
    Jul 21, 2021 at 15:36

There are several reasons people wish to get a marriage annulled. I'll try to list them in order of frequency -- though I'm unaware of any statistics that confirm that my ordering is correct.

  1. Money. As per Nij's comment, when people are divorced, their property is subdivided 50-50. If one person can get away with an annulment, and keep the property which he earned, then it will be in his interests to do so.

  2. Religious reasons. As per SJuan76's comments, several churches, including Catholic, Mormon, and Russian Baptist, do not allow a person to marry if his previous spouse is still alive. An annulment is a way around that.

  3. Fraud marriages. This is rare, but under Trump it happens more often then you might think. People (usually women) come to the US illegally, marry someone (generally significantly older), and after the wedding day they are never again seen by their spouse. They use their marriage certificate to ensure permission to stay in the US -- but, they were never interested in marrying that person in the first place. When found, often such people are living with another illegal alien "as a boyfriend", with kids born before the fraud marriage even took place. It is in such cases, that their new spouse often tries to attain an annulment of the marriage -- to make sure that the illegal alien doesn't get rewarded for cheating them.

  4. Personal reasons. For some people, having never been married means it's easier to get a spouse who also has never been married -- and being able to check the "Single -- Never married" box on a form is always a plus in such cases. Now, don't ask me why people prefer to marry someone who's never been married, over someone who's been divorced. :)

  5. Incest. Under the US law, if you marry someone who's your close relative, then you are guilty of a felony -- even if you didn't know they're your close relative at the time of marriage. However, if you annul the marriage, then you can avoid prosecution.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    May 11, 2021 at 19:34
  • 2
    -1 Point 1 is too broad. The division of property on divorce is strictly 50-50 in only a few US states, and only some other countries. In many jurisdictions an individual judgement is made, in which length of the marriage, and economic situations pre-marriage are relevant. A pre-nuptuial contract (if one exists) may also be highly relevant. Simply saying property is always divided 50-50 is wildly wrong. May 12, 2021 at 16:00
  • @DavidSiegel and Alex, I edited question a little bit (the purpose of the edit is to make the context clearer. I hope I did not really fundamentally alter the question). Does anything change please?
    – BCLC
    May 18, 2021 at 7:03
  • 1
    @BCLC the edit is interesting but has no effect on my downvote, point 1 is still so broad as to be just wrong.. Also there is no evidence to show that this is in any way in order of frequency, better to just delete that statement. Point 5 I suspect is incorrect, and I would want a source. That is, does an annulment really prevent an incest prosecution? May 18, 2021 at 14:22
  • thanks @DavidSiegel !
    – BCLC
    May 20, 2021 at 7:03

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