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What Are the Differences Between an Annulment, Legal Separation, and a Divorce?

It is a common misconception that annulments offer substantially different relief than divorces. Another variance of the truth is that legal separations offer substantially different relief than divorces or annulments. The reality is that except for a few key points, these filings are almost the same. Annulments, legal separations, and divorces are more similar than different. The differences can be categorized by (1) the legal standard to obtain them, and (2) the relief available.


The legal standard to get a divorce or an unlimited separation is “when irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.” In short, this just means the marriage is broken and can’t be fixed.

Legal Separation

The Court can order a “legal separation” if irreconcilable differences between the parties have caused a temporary breakdown of the marriage, or if irreconcilable differences exist between the parties and the continuation of their status as married persons preserves or protects legal, financial, social or religious interest. The Court can order a legal separation, or the parties can file an agreement suspending for a year, or more, their obligation to live together as a married couple. However the Court must find such agreement to be just and equitable to both parties..

In summary, if you have a marital problem and want to suspend your marriage for a year, you can with a legal separation. Or, if you have a marital problem, but wish to remain due to religious beliefs, need your spouse’s health insurance, need to protect a legal interest, or don’t want to hold yourself out as divorced, you can also get a legal separation.


The court can give you an “annulment” when “either party to the marriage was incapable of making such contract or consenting thereto for want of legal age or sufficient understanding; or when the consent of either party was obtained by force or fraud.” The court can also grant an annulment when “either party thereto had a wife or husband living at the time of such marriage.” or “when the parties thereto are first cousins or any nearer of kin to each other, whether of the whole or half blood, whether by blood or adoption, computing by the rules of the civil law, except that when the parties are first cousins by adoption only, the marriage is not prohibited or void.”

Simplified, it means if the marriage took place and one party learns after the fact that it was fraudulent, or if either party were not old enough, not capable of making a decision to marry, forced into the marriage, were married to someone else already, or are cousins or closer by relation, the court can annul the marriage or dissolve it as if it didn’t happen in the first place.

What does this all mean? Annulments, legal separations, and divorces are much more similar than different. You can get virtually identical relief in all three, but there are subtle differences. The divorce attorneys at Morneau Law will help guide you through the filing best suited to your case. Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more. Virtual services are available.

Morneau Law