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The Key Differences: Divorce vs Annulment

Daniel Willems Oct. 2, 2019

If you cannot live as husband and wife, you have two choices: divorce or annulment.

However, you can only get a marriage annulled under certain circumstances. A divorce ends a valid marriage while an annulment ends a marriage that was never valid according to state law. Instead of filing a petition for divorce, you must file a petition for annulment. At least one of the parties must have lived in Iowa for a year to be able to file for an annulment.

Grounds for Divorce vs. Grounds for Annulment

In a divorce, you do not need to state a reason—a cause of action—for divorce. If you want an annulment, you do have to prove grounds. In Iowa, you may have your marriage annulled if you prove one of the following:

  • The marriage was not legal, such as a marriage between first cousins or closer relatives.

  • That one of the parties was impotent when the parties got married. You will need a doctor’s note regarding your spouse’s impotence.

  • One of the parties is still married to someone else. However, if the parties both had knowledge of this fact and continued to live together after the death or divorce of the former spouse from a prior marriage, this proof will not work to get an annulment.

  • If one spouse was incompetent at the time of the marriage. In this case, the court must find that the incompetent spouse did not have the capacity to enter into a marriage contract. You may be required to show medical records showing incompetence or an order from the court stating that your spouse is incompetent.

  • If one spouse had a court-appointed guardian following a court finding that they lacked the mental capacity to contract a valid marriage.

Once you get an annulment, in the court’s eyes, the marriage never happened. You can tell people you’ve never been married before.

Children in A Divorce vs. Children in An Annulment

If the parties have children and the state looks at the relationship status as having never been married, under normal circumstances, that would make the children illegitimate or having been born outside of the marriage. However, Iowa Statutes state that the children of two people who annul a marriage are the legitimate children of both spouses unless a DNA test proves that the father is not the biological father. The legitimate children of the spouses receive all inheritance rights as if the parties had a legal marriage.

Compensation After an Annulment

In a situation where the parties annul the marriage, if it is found that one party married the other in good faith, but the other person is guilty of the grounds listed above, the court may award the innocent party compensation.

Assets in An Annulment

Generally, an annulment takes place very early in the marriage, so the parties do not have joint assets. However, if they do have joint assets, the court will divide the assets during the hearing for the annulment.

Annulments for Religious Reasons

Some religious organizations restrict the rights and participation of persons who have been divorced. This motivates people to seek an annulment in the state court system. The Catholic church and other religious organizations have their own separate grounds for an annulment. The Catholic church has its own judicial process.

Contact Willems Law

If you believe you have grounds for an annulment, you will need proof of those grounds. For example, if you find out your spouse is already married, you will need to show the marriage certificate for the other marriage, show that the spouse is still living and that no dissolution of marriage has been entered. Contact Willems Law to schedule a consultation.

If you have the documents proving the grounds by which you believe your marriage should be annulled, bring them with you. If you have trouble getting those documents, let us know, and we will attempt to get those documents for you before we file a petition for annulment.