Divorce v. Annulment: What’s the Difference?

By E. Stephanie Hebert, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office 

The Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office often receives requests for assistance regarding annulling Soldiers’ marriages, particularly brief marriages that may have lasted only a few days, weeks, or months. Many clients have the mistaken belief that an annulment is the easiest and fastest way to dissolve their marriage. While an annulment may be the fastest way to dissolve a marriage, it is not the easiest.

In order for a Texas court to consider your request to dissolve your marriage, certain jurisdictional requirements must be met for both a divorce and an annulment. A divorce usually requires that one of the spouses be domiciled in Texas for at least six months and be a resident of the county where they file for divorce for the preceding ninety days. Once filed, a divorce requires a minimum 60-day waiting period before you can finalize your case. While there is no required waiting period to obtain an annulment, the court must find two things: 1. The spouses were married in Texas; or 2. One of the spouses is domiciled in this state. “Domiciled” usually means that a person is present in the state and intends to make Texas his/her principal home. Property acquired and children born during a marriage receive the same treatment whether the marriage is dissolved by divorce or annulment.

So, yes, it’s possible for Texans to get their marriages annulled in a matter of days. The primary reason that filing for an annulment won’t work for most people is that pleading and proving fault takes effort, time and money, and is often contested.

Most of the marriage dissolution cases we see in our office are no-fault, uncontested divorces. Texas is a “no fault” state, so a divorce may be granted without alleging that either party is at fault. If a spouse insists on annulling their marriage, however, s/he must plead and prove one of the following grounds: a. Marriage to a person between the ages of 16 and 18  without parental consent or court order; b. Incapacity to consent to the marriage due to alcohol or narcotics; c. Known but undisclosed permanent impotency; d. Fraud, duress or force was used to induce the other spouse to enter into the marriage; e. Mental incapacity; f. Previous divorce granted within thirty days of a new marriage; or g. Marriage within the 72-hour waiting period after issuance of a marriage license. In addition to the existence of one of these fact scenarios, the court must make additional findings which makes it more difficult for a spouse to prevail. For example, voluntary cohabitation with your spouse after discovering that you were induced into marrying that person will likely result in your request for annulment being denied. There are additional restrictions contained in each of the annulment sections cited above, and you must identify and prove all the statutory elements of your allegation before your annulment will be granted. Even assuming that you can plead and prove your case, in most cases, the responding party has to be served with process (a citation and petition), which causes delay in having your marriage dissolved. If the parties can agree to all elements of the annulment allegations, the respondent is willing to waive service of process, and the court has time to hear the case, then the parties can have their marriage annulled in a matter of days. However, any litigant seeking an annulment should ask for assistance before making allegations against a spouse, because court records are usually public records.     

If you insist upon filing for an annulment (or a fault-based divorce), the Legal Assistance Office can advise you on the best course of action, but we cannot represent you in court or process your paperwork for submission to a court. We do, however, assist with pro se divorce cases in limited situations. Even if we cannot prepare your annulment paperwork, we can advise military families on their options and help them find free forms online.

For more information regarding annulment, or the differences between annulment and divorce, review Chapter 6 of the Texas Family Code. And schedule an appointment with the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office by either calling (915) 568-7141 during office hours or emailing usarmy.bliss.hqda-otjag.mesg.bliss-legal-assistance-office@mail.mil anytime.