If a court denies your petition for annulment, the good news is that it does not mean you have to remain married. The bad news is that you can’t erase your marriage as though it never happened. Divorce ends a marriage that existed, whereas annulment legally declares that the marriage did not exist in the first place. Although annulment laws vary by state law, they’re usually prohibitive. Not everyone who applies for an annulment receives one.
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Reasons for Denial
The most common reason a court might deny an annulment is because you don’t have proper grounds. You must establish that something was so wrong with your marital union that it should never have taken place. In most states, grounds usually include bigamy, or the fact that you or your spouse was already married when you tied the knot. Grounds also include coercion, if your spouse somehow forced you into marrying, and fraud, if he tricked you into marrying him. Children under the age of consent can’t marry without a parent’s permission in most states, so these marriages can be annulled as well. If you got married on impulse when you were heavily under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your marriage is usually annullable. Contrary to popular belief, the length of the marriage usually has no bearing on whether a court will annul it. Some states, such as Florida, require you not to have had sexual relations with your partner after you realized that something about your marriage was fundamentally wrong.
Courts will generally deny an annulment if you fail to prove your grounds exist, and this can be an arduous legal process. Your spouse has the right to argue against your case. If you're denied an annulment, or if you don't want to undertake the challenge of trying to receive one, you can file for no-fault divorce instead. You don’t have to prove no-fault grounds before a judge will grant you a divorce, and your spouse can’t contest your no-fault grounds. He can only contest issues such as property division, custody or support. In most jurisdictions, it is much easier to get a divorce than an annulment.
Effect of Denial
If a judge denies you an annulment and you have to proceed with a divorce instead, it may have some financial implications. Courts don't usually wade into issues of equitable distribution of property and spousal support when they annul a marriage. They simply try to restore two individuals to the financial condition they were in before they wed. However, if you must divorce because your request for an annulment was denied, you might run the risk of having to pay alimony or give up a percentage of property that you acquired through your own income during the marriage. A divorce rather than an annulment does not affect children born to the marriage. They’re legitimate in both cases, and the court will make child support and custody decisions for you if you can’t come to an agreement on your own.
Some people opt for annulment for religious reasons, even though divorcing is usually quicker and easier. However, if a civil court denies you an annulment, divorcing instead usually does not preclude you from requesting a religious annulment later. If you’re unsure if this applies to your personal faith, speak with your religious leader to find out your options.