If you want to legally end your marriage in the state of North Carolina, you have two options: divorce and annulment. Both processes terminate the legal relationship and allow you to marry again if you would like. Furthermore, in North Carolina, the couple must have been separated for a year or more, with the separation intended to be permanent, to obtain either a divorce or an annulment.
However, a major difference is in what defines each of these terms. Divorce is a means of ending a legal marriage. Annulment, on the other hand, can occur because the marriage was never legally valid in the first place.
Eligibility Differences Between Divorce and Annulment
There are significant differences between the legal requirements to qualify for an annulment or a divorce. To obtain a divorce in the state of North Carolina, the parties are entitled to plead “no fault.” This will allow them to file for divorce without the burden of proving any specific grounds as a reason why the court should dissolve the marriage.
On the other hand, for the marriage to qualify for an annulment, the petitioner (the party filing the suit) will have to prove that the facts and circumstances surrounding the marriage meet specific statutory grounds. This means that if you want an annulment, you will probably be required to appear before a judge to demonstrate that the marriage is indeed legally invalid.
On What Grounds Can a Marriage Qualify for an Annulment?
North Carolina generally recognizes seven grounds for the annulment of a marriage:
- One or both spouses were minors – If one of the married parties is under the age of 16 and did not get parental consent, the marriage is subject to an annulment. The exception is if one of the married parties was pregnant or gave birth between the ages of 14 and 16, and the child is still alive.
- Impotence of one of the married parties – If one of the married parties is impotent, and the other party did not know about this beforehand, an annulment is possible.
- Lack of consent to the marriage – A partner can get a marriage annulled if they entered into it under force, duress, or by trickery.
- Mental illness – A partner may request an annulment if, after the marriage, they discover that their spouse has a serious and debilitating mental illness.
- Consanguinity – Any marriage is voidable under state law if it occurs between two people who are more closely related than first cousins.
- Bigamy – If a person gets married while they have a legal spouse who is still alive, the marriage is not valid. Furthermore, North Carolina categorizes bigamy as a Class I felony, and a convicted bigamist faces a minimum of three to twelve months in prison.
- Mistaken belief of pregnancy – If the marriage occurred because one of the partners was mistakenly believed to be pregnant with their spouse’s child, the marriage can be voided.
It is important to note that, despite the above grounds, any marriage that is followed by cohabitation and the birth of children is not eligible for an annulment after the death of either of the spouses, except in the case of bigamy.
What Are the Differences in Outcomes Between Divorces and Annulments?
Because an annulment treats a marriage as though it never existed in the first place, there are a couple of important differences in legal obligations at the end of each of these processes as well.
The first is that, after an annulment, neither party can be held liable to pay spousal support because the legal union never existed. If the couple had children together, however, child support will still be payable.
Secondly, after an annulment, the court does not have the power to divide the couple’s property equitably because there was never a marital estate in the eyes of the law.
Depending on your eligibility, these distinctions may make an annulment a more favorable option. An experienced family lawyer can help you determine what is best for you.
Contact a Raleigh Family Law & Divorce Attorney Today
If you have concerns about the legal validity of your marriage, you should speak with a Raleigh family law attorney as soon as possible. The legal team at Marshall & Taylor PLLC will review the circumstances of your relationship with you and can provide you with advice about whether state law permits you to proceed with an annulment. Contact us today at (919) 833-1040 for a confidential consultation.