The main similarity between annulment and divorce is that as a result of these processes, spouses end their marriage. At the same time, there are many significant differences between these judicial procedures:
- If a marriage is annulled, it is declared invalid and void as if it had never legally existed.
- During a divorce, the court issues a divorce decree according to which the parties are no longer bound by an official marriage.
The process of marriage annulment in Pennsylvania can be initiated under limited and specific circumstances, as described below.
What Qualifies for Marriage Annulment in Pennsylvania?
According to Pennsylvania annulment law, annulment can be applied to void and voidable marriages. Unlike a divorce, annulment in PA cannot take place by mutual consent and always demands litigation. It requires a hearing or trial, where the party initiating the process proves the grounds to the court.
How To Get an Annulment in Pennsylvania?
There are annulment requirements without which the courts in Pennsylvania cannot initiate such a case. One or both spouses must meet the residency requirements and reside in Pennsylvania for at least 6 months before filing for annulment.
To obtain an annulment, one of the parties must file documents with the court, after which a court hearing will be held. The judge will consider the available evidence base and the testimony of witnesses that prove the appropriateness of the annulment.
Grounds for Annulment vs Divorce in Pennsylvania
Reasons for annulment of marriage, if it is void, are:
- Family ties –spouses are relatives by blood. Marriages between blood relatives (parent and child, brother and sister, cousins) are strictly prohibited by Pennsylvania law.
- Bigamy– at the time of marriage, the spouse was already in a valid marriage. Bigamy is illegal in all its forms (including polygamy).
- The presence of mental problems –one of the spouses was unable or unwilling to give informed consent to the marriage due to insanity, mental disorder, or other incapacity.
Unlike void marriages, voidable ones are valid but may be declared void under certain circumstances. There are the following grounds for annulment of marriage that is voidable:
- spouses were under 16 years of age and were married without the consent of their parents or custodian.
- spouses were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- spouse was forced into marriage by compulsion, deceit, or fraud.
- one spouse is incurably impotent, and the other party was not aware of it before the marriage.
Grounds for divorce in Pennsylvania differ for fault and no-fault divorces.
- The prerequisites for a no-fault divorce are irreparable breakdown, mutual consent, and institutionalization.
- The reasons for fault divorce are adultery, desertion, abuse, bigamy, imprisonment for more than 2 years, and humiliation.
Timing of Annulment vs. Divorce
On average, the duration of annulment process is comparable to that of an uncontested divorce. It is about 4 to 6 months. However, the time frame is greatly extended if there are contentious issues that require additional hearings, or one of the parties disputes the legality of the annulment. A contested divorce may take from 6 months to several years, depending on the disputes between the spouses regarding issues of custody, spousal support, and division of property.
How Long Do You Have to Annul a Marriage?
The time limit for annulment in Pennsylvania is 60 days from the date of the marriage in the following cases:
- one of the parties could not give informed consent to a marriage due to alcoholic and drug intoxication;
- either spouse was at the age of 16 or 17 during a marriage, did not have the consent of a parent or custodian, and did not ratify the marriage after they turned 18.
If this time limit is not met, the marriage can no longer be annulled on these grounds. In other cases, the annulment does not have a clear time frame and can be initiated once grounds for annulment are identified.
How Long Does Divorce Take in Pennsylvania?
On average, an uncontested divorce takes from 90 days, a mandatory waiting period for the no-fault divorce under Pennsylvania divorce laws, to 4-6 months. If the parties have managed to reach a mutual consent, the duration of divorce process will mainly depend on the court workload.
If the case is contested, the proceedings can drag on for 6-12 months or longer depending on:
- Child custody disputes.
- Disagreements about the division of marital property, assets, and debts.
- The unwillingness of the spouses to cooperate.
- High caseload of the court and the parties’ lawyers.
Outcomes of Annulment and Divorce
Although the annulment renders the marriage invalid, it does not affect the legal status of children. Children born in the annulled marriage are still considered the legitimate children of both parties and retain the rights of inheritance. The only exception is if the DNA test proves that the legal father has no biological relationship with the child.
After an annulment, neither party is entitled to receive any spousal benefits. It terminates the rights that a spouse may have acquired in relation to the property of the other spouse during a marriage.
During a divorce, the court signs the final divorce decree, determining what property will remain with each of the partners (including real estate, assets, and debts) and regulating issues of custody and further spousal support.
The cost of annulment in Pennsylvania is about $300. However, it can increase sharply if the other party files a motion to reject the annulment. The final cost can be as high as $5,000, comparable to the spending during a lengthy contested divorce.