Annulment vs. Divorce in California


In CA, spouses have two different ways to formally end a marriage. The first one is a divorce, in which the court procedure legally ends a valid marriage. At the same time, there is another option – annulment in California. It is relevant for cases where the marriage might not have been legally valid. That is, an annulment is like taking back time and declaring the marriage as never existing when there are legal grounds for doing so.

What Qualifies for an Annulment in California?

In cases where a marriage is not legally valid, there is a judicial proceeding for marriage annulment in CA. If you have probable cause to get your marriage annulled but do not know what documents and actions are required, you can review California annulment laws below.

How to Get an Annulment in California

The CA courts have several rules for annulment:

  • Signing the petition. You must use Form FL-100 to confirm your interest in getting an annulment in California. The party who initiates the annulment should include information about the marriage, the reasons for the annulment, and other relevant data in the form.
  • Filling out Summons (Form FL-110). This form will notify your husband or wife of a court case for annulment. Your partner will have 30 days to respond to this subpoena.
  • If you and your spouse have minor children together, you must fill out a Declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (form FL-105).
  • After filling out the necessary forms, you must make 2 copies and take the originals with the copies to the court clerk. After the clerk puts the necessary seals on the documents, you should leave the originals in court and take copies for yourself and the other spouse.
  • The next step should be to forward the necessary documents to the other spouse. This has to be done by the server who gives the other spouse copies of completed forms, Blank Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-110), and Blank response forms if some other documents were filled.
  • The server must complete a Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115). This form must contain information about the exact date, time, and place of transfer of documents to the other spouse. From that time, your spouse has 30 days to respond.
  • The spouse who wants to officially confirm the nullity of marriage in California must attend a hearing and present evidence and facts to the court to show that the marriage should be legally null and void.

If all of the steps are properly followed, the court will grant the annulment.

Grounds for Annulment in California vs Divorce

In CA, there are separate rules and grounds for divorce and for annulling a marriage. The main difference between these proceedings is the recognition or non-recognition of the marriage. An annulment occurs when at least one spouse believes that the marriage procedure was legally invalid and that the marriage should not exist. In contrast, divorce proceedings initiated by one of the partners confirm that they want to end the marriage that legally existed.

The grounds for annulment in California include the following:

  • Incest between spouses – the spouses are related by blood.
  • Two marriages at the same time – one spouse was already married to another person when the new marriage was registered.
  • Dishonest marriage – if one spouse has fraudulently or deceitfully induced the other to marry them, such a marriage may be invalidated upon proof.
  • Age of one of the partners at the time of the marriage – if the spouse is under the age of majority (18 years old), the marriage may be annulled.
  • Coercion and pressure to marry – a spouse or his or her family has been threatened or pressured to marry.
  • Physical disability – one of the parties has an incurable impairment that prevents the spouses from maintaining the relationship. Often, these physical impairments include male impotence, which the other party was unaware of before the marriage.
  • Mental health problems – if at the time of the marriage one of the parties had a mental disorder that made it impossible for them to be aware of their behavior and decisions, such a marriage can be legally null and void.

One of these reasons will be sufficient to initiate the annulment of marriage in California. At the same time, the party seeking an annulment must be able to provide evidence to support their claims.

In California, no-fault divorce is allowed meaning one spouse does not need to prove that the other one is guilty of a marriage failure. Therefore, there are only two types of reasons for divorce:

  1. Irreconcilable differences: the existence of significant misunderstandings between partners is enough for a judge to grant a divorce. When filing based on irreconcilable differences in California, a person can be granted a divorce even without proof of why there was a breakdown in a marriage and even when only one of the parties wants a divorce.
  2. Incurable insanity: this reason for divorce, found in CA Family Code Section 2310, can be taken into account by a judge only if there is an official proof of mental incapacity.  One of the parties must show medical certificates or other evidence confirming that the partner has incurable mental health problems.

Evidently, annulment requirements in California are much stricter than the divorce requirements in this state.

Timing of Annulment vs. Divorce

There are specific time limits when it comes to filing and waiting for a decision on annulment and divorce in CA.

How Long Does an Annulment Take in California

To get an annulment, it is important not only to provide evidence to prove the invalidity of the marriage, but also to observe the time limits for applying to the court:

  • In California, a spouse has four years to file for an annulment from the date of marriage if the other party forced the marriage.
  • The same California annulment time limit of four years also applies to fraud: the countdown starts from the day the deception was discovered.
  • If either party was a minor at the time of the marriage, she or he has 4 years from the date of their 18th birthday to sue for an annulment.
  • If the reason for the marriage annulment is mental health problems of one of the partners or a pre-existing marriage, the spouses have no time limit to file for an annulment of the marriage.

The process of waiting for a court decision on annulment is different from a divorce. Spouses do not have to wait for 6 months to regain a single status. The marriage will be annulled after the court decides on the case, so the faster you get a hearing date, the better.

How Long Does Divorce Take in California

A divorce can be initiated by one partner or both spouses during the entire married life.

For the court to formally grant a divorce, the spouses must wait 6 months. This period is the shortest one for the parties to regain single status, if there are legal grounds for it. Depending on the complexity of the court case, the duration of the divorce can be longer than six months and even reach several years if the case is contested.

Outcomes of Annulment and Divorce

Annulment of marriage and divorce in CA have different consequences for spouses. Firstly, do not forget that both marriage annulment and divorce are not free: the cost of annulment is approximately $435-$450 while the divorce may cost much more than $10000.

When it comes to the financial outcomes, there are certain obligations between the ex-spouses after the divorce like alimony payments or the right to receive a portion of the profits/property. In contrast, if the nullity of marriage in California is declared by the court, the spouses are returned to their pre-marital financial state, and neither partner is entitled to alimony or other payments from the other party. An exception is a situation when one of the spouses, a so-called putative spouse, believed that the marriage was legal during its duration. In such a case, the court can divide property or order alimony payments.

During both an annulment and a divorce, spouses can make decisions about their common children. There is a presumption of paternity in CA. According to the Uniform Paternity Act, children born in a marriage or within 300 days of that marriage being annulled are presumed legitimate children. Still, the court will only be able to make orders regarding child custody, parenting time, and visitations if the father provides written consent that he is a parent or if the procedure of establishing parentage is performed.

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