Divorce vs. Annulment

divorce vs annulments

Some couples whose marriage is not working out may be able to annul the marriage instead of seeking a divorce.

An annulment results in a court decree that declares the marriage null, as if it never occurred. When granting an annulment, the court does not consider requests for alimony or spousal support. There are narrow circumstances under which a couple in North Carolina may have their marriage annulled. An annulment is typically sought in cases of one party being misled about the marriage or one party being incapable of a marital relationship.

Some people seek annulments because of religious beliefs that stigmatize divorce. Divorce dissolves a marriage but does not erase it. North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state, which makes it relatively easy for a married couple to divorce. A party in a divorce may qualify for financial support from their former spouse after the divorce.

If you have questions about whether you may be able to have your marriage annulled in North Carolina, contact Charles R. Ullman & Associates in Raleigh to set up a discussion about the difference between annulment and divorce. For more than 25 years, attorney Charles R. Ullman has concentrated his legal practice on family law matters, including legal separation, divorce, and annulment. He will take the time to understand your circumstances and determine whether you are eligible to get an annulment under North Carolina civil law or whether the divorce process is the proper path for you.

What Is an Annulment?

The N.C. State Center for Health Statistics publishes reports of the number of marriages and divorces in North Carolina each year. The record shows 29,738 divorces in the state in 2022. The Center does not publish annulment statistics, an indication of how rare annulment is.

An annulment is a legal process through which a married couple can obtain a court decree that voids their marriage. A legal annulment is separate from a religious annulment. When a marriage is annulled, it is legally the same as if the couple never married.

A married couple in North Carolina can have their marriage annulled if:

  • The marriage is between two closely related people who are closer than first cousins.
  • The marriage is between double first cousins.
  • Either party already had a living spouse from an earlier marriage at the time of marriage.
  • Either party was physically impotent at the time of marriage.
  • Either party was found to be incapable of understanding the marriage vows at the time of marriage as a result of mental incompetence.
  • If either party believed falsely at the time of the marriage that one party was pregnant, but the couple separated within 45 days of the marriage and has stayed separated for at least 12 months, and no child was born within 10 months of the date of separation.
  • Either party was not yet 16 years old unless the marriage was allowed by a court order due to pregnancy.

Under most circumstances, a child under the age of 16 cannot legally marry in North Carolina. But a 14- or 15-year-old girl who is pregnant or has given birth or the 14- or 15-year-old putative father of a child or an unborn child may obtain a legal ruling from the court allowing them to marry. Before the court issues such an order, it must consider certain factors related to the best interests of the teens intending to marry.

If a child younger than 16 gets married and becomes pregnant or has a baby, the only way the marriage can be annulled is if the baby has been declared deceased when the request to annul has been made.

How long the couple has been married is not a factor when considering an annulment.

To obtain an annulment, either party to the marriage must file an N.C. annulment form in the county where their spouse resides and provide the court with evidence that their situation fits one of the circumstances that are grounds for an annulment under North Carolina law.

Our attorneys can evaluate whether you have the legal grounds to seek an annulment and file the N.C. annulment form with the court along with supporting evidence and represent you during the court proceedings. The other party may dispute the evidence in court or agree to the annulment.

What Does Divorce Require in North Carolina?

Annulments are meant for marriages that should not have happened. It’s a relatively simple process that allows the parties to quickly get a mistake behind them and move on.

There are societal reasons to encourage valid marriage between competent and consenting adults. However, marriages do fail, and as the incidence of divorce has grown over the years, the process of divorce has become less complex, though there are still certain requirements.

In North Carolina, a legally married couple may divorce without stating a reason for the divorce. This is known as a no-fault divorce. North Carolina does require that:

  • The couple must live separately and apart for at least one year and one day with the intent to permanently separate before filing for divorce.
  • One party to the marriage must have lived in North Carolina for at least six months immediately prior to filing for divorce.

If you meet these requirements, you may file papers for divorce with the Clerk of Court in the county where one or both spouses live. This includes divorce papers that will be served on your spouse notifying them of your petition for divorce. Your spouse has the right to reply to the divorce petition and file their own papers contesting the divorce, or they may work with you to proceed with an uncontested divorce.

If your spouse agrees to the divorce, you can ask the Clerk’s office to set a hearing date. If your spouse will contest the divorce, they have 30 days before the Clerk will schedule a hearing.

At the hearing, the judge will check to see that all forms are correct and filed appropriately. If they are, you will both have the opportunity to tell the judge you want to be divorced and want nothing from your spouse. The judge may ask some questions but should sign the Judgment of Absolute Divorce and dissolve your marriage.

But this requires both parties to the marriage to be in agreement and, importantly, that you have no underage children together. And you give up any help or ruling about:

  • Spousal support (alimony)
  • Equitable distribution of marital property, including division of pensions, joint savings accounts, and retirement accounts.

 If you and your spouse have underage children, you must present the court with a separation agreement that addresses:

  • Child custody and who will primarily provide a home and raise your child(ren.
  • The visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent.
  • Child support payments.

The judge will review the separation agreement and plans for your children and may accept them or alter them according to what the judge believes is in the best interest of the child. The final plan will become part of the Judgment of Absolute Divorce, which you will be required to abide by.

If you and your spouse do not agree on all of these issues, you must either negotiate an agreement before going to court or present evidence in court, and have the judge decide.

If you have child custody issues that need to be resolved, marital property that needs to be divided between you, or either of you seeks spousal support, you should engage a divorce attorney to guide you through the process and advocate for your interests.

A compassionate divorce lawyer from Charles R. Ullman & Associates can walk you through the various considerations required of divorce proceedings and help you make forward-looking decisions. If you engage a divorce lawyer from Charles Ullman & Associates, our initial aim will be to help you negotiate an acceptable legal separation agreement that a family law court judge can ratify. If the other spouse contests the divorce, we will be prepared to argue your case in court. Above all, we will take steps to protect your financial rights and your access to your children.

What Are the Benefits of Annulment vs. Divorce?

Divorces and annulments are both legal proceedings that can be complicated. If you qualify for an annulment, annulment is a faster and easier process than a divorce.

On the other hand, you must be prepared to walk away from an annulled marriage with nothing guaranteed you — no alimony, no rights to property division or assets that may have been yours.

The best choice for people seeking to end a marriage is to consult a reputable divorce attorney and seek legal advice about the appropriate steps to move forward.

Contact a Family Law Attorney About Dissolving Your Marriage

Charles R. Ullman & Associates is a respected law firm in Raleigh, NC, focused exclusively on family law services, including all aspects of separation and divorce, annulment, child custody, child support, and more. Charles Ullman is certified by the North Carolina State Bar as a Specialist in Family Law and has more than 25 years of experience helping men and women work through difficult family matters.

You can count on Charles Ullman and the other skilled family law attorneys in the law firm to guide you through your unique legal issues to pursue divorce or annulment to end your marriage. Contact us today for an initial consultation. We represent clients in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, and across Wake County.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.