There are substantial distinctions between No-Fault Divorce and Annulment in Florida. Some couples that are seeking to end their marriage grapple with the issue of divorce for a variety of reasons, some personal, some religious, and others having to do with the circumstances of the marriage itself. Florida does recognize a civil process for annulling a marriage, but it is based on case law (i.e., common law), not statute. Before deciding whether to divorce or seek an annulment, the parties must understand some important distinctions between the two procedures.
First, there is a very great difference conceptually between the two processes. A divorce is the breaking apart of a legal marriage that the law recognizes actually existed. Annulment is the process of declaring that the marriage never legally existed at all, either because it was void from inception or is voidable. In order to obtain an annulment, the parties must overcome a strong legal presumption in favor of the validity of the marriage. Even if one party desires the annulment, the other party can object, and the court has to hear both sides of the dispute. For this reason, annulments tend to be more costly to procure and can take more time, depending on the complexity of the facts at issue.There are various bases for a court finding that a marriage is “void” because it violated state law from its inception. For instance, if the marriage was incestuous or bigamous, the court would find that the marriage never existed. A party can seek to annul a “voidable” marriage if it was entered into while the party was intoxicated (or impaired by drugs), was underage and had no parental consent, is impotent, or lacked the mental capacity to enter into the marriage. In addition, if the marriage was the result of fraud, misrepresentation, or duress, the wronged party can seek an annulment. In the case of voidable marriages, a court may refuse to grant an annulment if the marriage was consummated after the circumstances which serve as the basis for the annulment had passed (i.e., if the parties engaged in intercourse after the spouse became sober). In short, after much time and money spent on trying to prove the facts underlying the case for the civil annulment, the parties often end up with a divorce anyway. For these reasons, annulments tend to be rare in most states, and Florida is no exception.In contrast, since Florida has a no-fault divorce statute, if either party seeks to end the marriage, the court will grant the petition, regardless of the respondent spouse’s objections. No-fault divorces also can avoid the often prolonged and painful process of proving the underlying causes of the marital break-up. Such drawn out evidentiary proceedings can cause extreme emotional stress not only to the parties, but to any children as well, whom it can be difficult if not impossible to shield from the details of the process.
The bases for property division and alimony awards are also clearer in the case of divorce. Since an annulment negates the marriage’s existence, neither spouse can assert property rights over any supposed marital property. One party cannot assert any rights over the other party’s separate retirement account or other assets even if they were acquired during the time of the “marriage.”
The break-up of a marriage is something that has far-reaching consequences, requiring the assistance of a seasoned Florida family law attorney. The professionals at the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. serve individuals in Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Wellington, Jupiter, Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, Broward County, and Martin County. Contact us at 561-429-3924 or via email at [email protected] to schedule a 1-hour consultation.