Annulment Vs. Divorce: What's The Difference, Anyway?

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Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries
Why did Kris Humphries want an annulment instead of a divorce?

The war between Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian heated up when the two faced off in a court of law to officially end their ill-fated union. The couple, who split after a mere 72 days of marriage, had been in the midst of an ongoing legal battle because Humphries was seeking a legal annulment, rather than a divorce. This drama has caused a then-pregnant Kim much agony and distress, leaving some of us wondering, why wouldn't Humphries budge and just get a divorce instead so the two can move on? What's the difference between a divorce and an annulment anyway?

Both an annulment and divorce are legal means to successfully dissolve a marriage. However, an annulment treats the marriage as null and void by working retroactively to act as if the marriage contract between two people never happened. It's kind of like a way to erase the past — at least in the eyes of the law. This matters to many people who may hope to also obtain religious annulment, which is associated with the Catholic Church.

Divorce is forbidden in Catholicism. Thus, if someone was previously married and their ex-spouse is still living, one must typically get a religious annulment before they can remarry in the Church. King Henry VIII famously broke away from the Catholic Church, who wouldn't grant him a divorce from Catharine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. By the way, he had 3 of his 6 marriages annulled!

Before you get excited at the thought of legally erasing your ex-spouse from your past and undoing a huge mistake, beware. Obtaining an annulment can sometimes be a difficult, complicated and lengthy process. Humpries and Kardashian had been engaged in legal proceedings to end their marriage since October of 2011 — and they were only married for 72 days! Plus, witness or expert testimony may be necessary to prove grounds for your case and that could be costly. In other words, you need a reason for obtaining the annulment — and some courts are very hesitant to grant them.

Though the laws governing divorce and annulment vary from state to state, generally, you may be able to get an annulment:

  • If the marriage was based fraud or material misrepresentations.
  • If the marriage was entered into under duress, coercion or force. Some states require that there was no subsequent cohabitation once the danger has subsided.
  • If either party to the marriage was underage and/or lacked consent.
  • If either party lacked mental capacity to enter into the marriage. (Remember Britney Spears' Las Vegas wedding childhood friend Jason Alexander? Their marriage was annulled 55 hours later on the basis that the pop princess "lacked understanding of her actions".)
  • If either party was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and they file for an annulment within 60 days.
  • If there was a material fact that was concealed at the time of the marriage, for example, a party concealed children, sexual transmitted diseases, a felony conviction, addiction to alcohol or drugs.
  • If a party is impotent and/or the marriage was never consummated.

(The grounds for seeking a religious annulment are different and are processed through a Catholic tribunal.) 

Now that many states allow couples to obtain no-fault divorces — where neither party needs to have done something wrong — annulments have become less common in favor of cleaner, swifter proceedings.

Still, Humphries insisted on his annulment and remained adamant that Kim fraudulently induced him into marriage. He reportedly had already taken depositions of her family members and even her current beau, Kanye West, in hopes of proving that she only married him for her reality show. In the end, Humphries decided to settle and the two were awarded a divorced on June 3, 2013.

Note: This article is not meant to serve as legal advice. To know whether an annulment or divorce is right for you, contact a divorce expert or a family law attorney. Visit the American Bar Association website for referral information relative to your state.