If your marriage is over and you are considering legal action to terminate the relationship, you may have heard the terms “annulment” and “divorce,” and wonder what the difference is and whether one is better for you than the other. In actuality, it’s rare that you have the choice to file an annulment or a divorce complaint. There are specific grounds for qualifying for an annulment. If you don’t meet the statutory grounds, your only recourse is through a divorce.
An annulment, like a divorce, legally terminates a marriage. The key difference, from a legal perspective, is that an annulment treats your marriage as if it never happened, rending the marriage void or invalid. A divorce, on the other hand, acknowledges that the marriage was legitimate, but officially ends it.
In Pennsylvania, there are several ways that you may qualify for the annulment of your marriage. Some of those grounds make a marriage void, while others make it “voidable.” The difference? A void marriage can never be valid, as a matter of law. A voidable marriage, alternatively, can be legal, but one of the parties may have the right to void the marriage.
Annulments Where a Marriage is Void
Pennsylvania will not recognize the following marriages as valid:
- A marriage which results in bigamy or polygamy. If one of the parties is legally married at the time of the purported marriage, it is not valid
- A marriage to a first cousin or any closer relative
- A marriage where one of the parties lacked mental capacity or competence to consent to marriage
- A common law marriage where one of the parties was under the age of 18
Annulments Where a Marriage is Voidable
One of the parties may void a marriage in Pennsylvania if:
- One of the parties was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage and did not have court and parental consent
- One of the parties was under 18 and did not have parental consent
- One of the parties was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage ceremony
- The parties cannot consummate the marriage, i.e., one of the parties is unable to have sexual intercourse
- The marriage was entered into under fraud, duress or coercion