Should I Get an Annulment or Divorce in SC?
When spouses want to dissolve their marriage, there are a couple different options; divorce or annulment. South Carolina allows annulments under limited circumstances, and in a large number of cases, divorce (or legal separation if you do not currently have grounds for divorce) will be the only options.
What is an Annulment?
While divorce dissolves a valid marriage, an annulment terminates a marriage that was never valid in the first place. With an annulment, you are essentially saying that you were not legitimately married and that your marriage never really existed. After the process is completed, both spouses can say that they were never legally married to each other.
Under what Grounds can I Get an Annulment in South Carolina?
As mentioned earlier, you are only allowed to annul a marriage in South Carolina in very limited situations. Here are the grounds for an annulment in SC:
- Duress: One of the spouses was forced to get married against his/her will.
- Bigamy: One of the spouses was already legally married to someone else.
- Incapacitation: One of the spouses was mentally incapacitated and incapable of understanding and consenting to the marriage.
- Fraud: One of the spouses lied or misrepresented information that is essential to the marital relationship, such as mental incompetence or known infertility.
- Incest: The spouses are more closely related than first cousins.
- Underage: One or both of the spouses was under the age of 16 (at the time of the marriage) and their parents did not provide official consent.
- No Consummation or Cohabitation: No sexual relations ever occurred, and the couple never lived together after getting married.
What are the Financial Implications of an Annulment vs. a Divorce?
Even though an annulment legally invalidates a marriage, the family court can still decide on issues regarding any children the couple may have had (such as custody, visitation, and child support) and financial issues such as alimony and property division. Each case is unique, but in general, annulments tend to result in lower alimony payments (if alimony is awarded at all) and a less equitable division of property.
Of course, many specific factors are looked at when the court makes these decisions, such as the duration of the marriage, grounds for annulment, the financial situations of each spouse, and the needs of the children. The longer a marriage lasts, the more equitable the property distribution is likely to be. But on the other side of this coin, the longer a marriage lasts, the less likely a couple is to qualify for an annulment in the first place.
If you do not meet the requirements for an annulment, there may be situations in which a spouse can accomplish a similarly favorable financial settlement through a fault-based divorce. However, you will need to prove one of the grounds for this type of divorce, and there are only four; adultery, physical cruelty, habitual alcohol or narcotics abuse, and desertion/abandonment for more than one year (which has largely been replaced by the no-fault one year separation ground).
What if I Need an Annulment for Religious Reasons?
Many couples do not want to get a divorce because it is prohibited or not recognized by their religion. Unfortunately, South Carolina does not allow couples to get an annulment strictly for religious reasons. If you do not meet one of the aforementioned requirements, this option is not available to you through the state. That said, this does not mean you cannot stop living with your spouse without violating the teachings of your religion.
For example, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce, so the only way for members of the Church to end a marriage is through an annulment. But even if you cannot qualify for an annulment through the state of South Carolina, you can still go through the steps to obtain one through the Church. The only catch is that the annulment will only be recognized by the Church, and it would not be legally recognized by the state.
Another alternative to a state-sanctioned annulment that those with religious objections to divorce can choose is legal separation. A legal separation can accomplish nearly all of the same objectives as a divorce, including child custody and visitation, child support, alimony/separate maintenance, and division of property and debts.
A legal separation can allow a couple to live separately without violating their religious beliefs. The one thing you are not allowed to do when you are legally separated is to marry someone else. If you want to get remarried, then the only two options you have are divorce and annulment.
Annulment vs. Divorce in SC? Speak with an Experienced Attorney for Further Guidance
If you are looking to end your marriage and you are not sure which option is best for your situation, the Cate Law Firm is here to help! Our practice is focused exclusively on family law, and we know all of the ins and outs of the divorce process and the alternatives. To schedule a consultation with an attorney, call us today at 864-251-5855. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our Spartanburg office in person at your convenience.