California Family Law 101: The Differences Between a Divorce and an Annulment

Serving Clients Throughout Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa Counties

If you live in California and know someone who has decided to go their separate ways from their spouse, then you’ve probably heard of an annulment as an alternative to divorce. Oftentimes, people think that they can just get an annulment instead of going through the divorce process, but that isn’t always the case. Annulments and divorces are actually two very different things. So it begs the question: What is the difference between a divorce and an annulment in California? What are the requirements of each?


An annulment is when two people who are married seek to receive a declaration that deems the marriage null and void. In other words, something stating that the marriage was never valid in the first place and therefore cannot and does not exist. It therefore follows that not every marriage can be annulled.

When seeking an annulment, there are two routes depending on the issue that you fall under: 1) The marriage was invalid in the first place, OR 2) The marriage was void or voidable.

In California, marriages are illegal and therefore invalid in the first place if they involve bigamy (when one partner is already legally married) or incest (marriage between any full or half blood relatives. e.g. parents and children, brothers and sisters). These illegal and invalid marriages stand in contrast to marriages that can only be deemed void or voidable. A void or voidable marriage stems from situations where the marriage was forced or fraudulent, where one partner lacked the proper mental capacity, or if one spouse was a minor (i.e. under 18) and did not receive parental consent.


In contrast, a divorce does not seek to show that the marriage was never valid in the first place or void after the fact. A divorce is when two married people seek to have their otherwise valid marriage dissolved and seek to obtain a judicial determination that finalizes the dissolution of their marriage.

Unlike an annulment, divorces don’t need to qualify or fall under a certain category. People can choose to get divorced for a variety of reasons that do not have to fall under a rigid set of circumstances.

Speak with an experienced family law attorney if you are considering either option

If you are in a marriage and want to determine if you qualify for an annulment or must seek a divorce, it is very important that you speak with an experienced California family law attorney as soon as possible. At the Carroll Law Office, we work with our California clients to help them find the best resolution to their marital issues. If you have questions about the legalities su

Our Team Is Here

To Help You During Every Stage of Your Case

Request a Case Review

Fields Marked With An “*” Are Required

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.