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Understanding the differences between a divorce and an annulment

When married couples in Sacramento decide to end their marriages, they most commonly think that a divorce is their only option. In most cases, this assumption is correct. Other factors, however, may make an annulment a preferable option.

Apart from the procedures that are involved, an annulment differs from a divorce in that the former represents a determination that a lawful marriage never occurred, while the latter is a legal process used to end a valid marriage. In California, a marriage may be annulled for only a few specified reasons: one or both of the couple lacked the legal capacity to consent to the marriage, one or both parties had another living spouse, the consent of one party was obtained by force or fraud or one party was physically incapable of entering into the marital state. A marriage may also be annulled if it is a "prohibited" marriage, i.e., a marriage between an ancestor and descendant, between a brother and sister, between an uncle and niece or between an aunt and nephew and bigamous and polygamous marriages.

An action to annul a marriage must be commenced within four years from the discovery of fraud, four years from a marriage that was the result of coercion, any time before death for annulment based on the unsound mind of one party, within four years. Children of an annulled marriage are not regarded as legitimate because the marriage was never valid.

The validity of a marriage can be a complex question, and it may have a significant impact on the ability of one or both parties to bequeath their property to their children. For example, community property laws do not applied to annulled marriages. Anyone with questions about obtaining or the effect of an annulment may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for advice.

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