Annulment is a legal proceeding by which a marriage is declared invalid. It differs from a divorce in that it declares that the marriage never existed, as opposed to dissolving a marriage.

There are two types of annulment, civil and religious. A civil annulment occurs through a petition with the court of your jurisdiction. A religious annulment is given by a church and is governed by church rules. The annulment proceeding is a throwback to a time when divorce carried more stigma and was frowned upon by society and the church.

An annulment can be more complicated than a divorce, especially if the marriage is a long-standing one. It is often sought when the parties have not been married for more than a few weeks or months. In these cases, there are no property rights or custodial matters to be considered by the court.

In cases where the marriage has existed long enough for there to be children and property issues the courts generally handle these matters in the same manner as a divorce. Children born during a marriage that is annulled are considered legitimate.

There are limited grounds for seeking an annulment, and they vary somewhat from state-to-state. The grounds are typically limited to fraud, bigamy, and mental incompetence. Fraud, bigamy, and mental incompetence can include the following situations: either spouse was married to someone else at the time of the marriage; either spouse was too young to marry or too young to marry without parental or court consent.

Also included in this category are instances where either party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage; either spouse was mentally incompetent; or consent to the marriage was induced by fraud or force. Other grounds for annulment are that the marriage is prohibited due to the blood relationship of the parties; one of the parties is sentenced to a term of life imprisonment; one of the parties concealed a drug addiction, criminal record or sexually transmitted disease.

The guilty party, the party that caused the grounds for the annulment is generally not allowed to pursue an annulment. The innocent spouse is the party that is given relief by the court. This relief will extend to property division, custody and support where appropriate.

Finally, it should be noted that it is possible to obtain a civil divorce and a religious annulment. Annulment is more technical than divorce and can take longer. It should be used to dissolve a marriage only if you have strong moral or religious reasons for it.