An annulment is a way to end a marriage other than divorce and legal separation. It voids a marriage and treats the marriage as if it never existed in the first place. In other words, the marriage is prohibited by law for one reason or another. This is opposed to a divorce and legal separation, which recognizes that the marriage did exist. Remember, every married couple cannot get an annulment; you must meet your specific state laws. The typical grounds for an annulment include marrying multiple people (bigamy), incestuous marriages, underage marriages, fraudulent or coerced marriages, among others.
What is the difference between annulments and divorce?
Annulments and divorces both end a marriage. However, annulments render the marriage as never existing in the first place, whereas divorce recognizes the marriage occurred at one point. Additionally, not all the typical issues are decided in annulment cases, like alimony. Alimony may not be awarded in a Georgia annulment case. Of course, alimony may be awarded in a divorce, on the other hand.
How do annulments work in Georgia?
In Georgia, in order to get an annulment, one of the following must be true:
- One or both parties were mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage;
- One or both parties were under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage (and didn’t get permission from their parents);
- One or both parties consented to the marriage based on fraud, force, or duress;
- One party is still legally married to another living person;
- The parties are closely related by blood or otherwise.
Note that you may not get an annulment in Georgia if you have children (O.C.G.A. § 19-4-1). The non-existence of the marriage may call into question the paternity of the children. However, Georgia prevents this from happening by not allowing annulments by couples who have children. If you have children, you must go through the normal divorce proceedings, even if one or more of the grounds for annulment is true in your case.
If any of the previously listed grounds are true, then the marriage is likely void, and you may request an annulment from the court (as long as there are no children of the marriage). Annulment legal proceedings are similar to divorce legal proceedings in the sense that you must plead certain documents, serve your spouse, and legal procedure. The spouse who wants to file for annulment must also serve the petition and the responding spouse must file an answer, just like a divorce. The one major difference between annulment and divorce procedure in Georgia is that if the responding spouse does not respond within 30 days of service of the petition, the court may enter an order without a hearing.
What about alimony and property division?
Like most states, Georgia does not award alimony in an annulment case. However, it does allow for property and debt division. Georgia state law allows the courts to equitably divide the parties’ assets and debts in an annulment case.
What is the effect of an annulment?
The effect of an annulment is the same as a divorce; the marriage is ended and you may re-marry. The parties’ status returns to unmarried/single.
Why get an annulment over a divorce?
Deciding to get an annulment over a divorce is a personal decision. Perhaps religious beliefs may lead one to prefer getting an annulment over a divorce to avoid religious stigma.
What are the benefits?
There are no specific special benefits of getting annulment over a divorce or legal separation. It may actually be more detrimental to get an annulment because alimony may not be awarded.
However, you could consider one benefit of getting an annulment the difference in legal procedure in Georgia. In Georgia, if the responding spouse does not respond within 30 days to the petition, after proper service of petition and summons, then the judge may enter an order without a hearing. This is not the case in divorce proceedings. So, in such case, an annulment may be quicker for some people.
Do I need a lawyer to get an annulment in Georgia?
While it is not a requirement to hire a lawyer for a legal separation, divorce, or annulment, it is highly recommended for all three. To get the most desirable outcome for your case, hiring a lawyer is crucial. Without a lawyer, you must fill out and file all of the correct paperwork, appear in front of a judge on behalf of yourself, and correspond with the opposing party’s lawyer. Additionally, most people are not familiar with Georgia family law, so unrepresented parties may oversee certain rights that they are entitled to.