Annulment Versus Divorce

Often individuals who inquire about annulments obtain a divorce based on a separation agreement. The primary reason for seeking a divorce based on a separation agreement instead of on an annulment is cost.

Annulments require adversarial trials, preparation of witnesses, and extensive trial time and are far more costly than other grounds for divorce.



He is a 28-year-old Associate Engineer and meets a pretty woman who he thinks is 32 years old and a successful businesswoman.

She in fact is 45 years old and her business is that of a professional criminal. She was convicted of drug distribution, credit card fraud, prostitution, insurance fraud, and the transportation and importation of contraband. Also, she has a history of psychiatric hospitalization enabling her to receive social security disability income and she utilizes a colostomy bag.

The client, as he testified at a Master’s Hearing in Baltimore County, was totally unaware of her criminal, psychiatric, and medical history even though he dated the alleged businesswoman for approximately five months before he married her.

He fortunately asked her whether she had a prior criminal record which she denied before they married. Her lie was the foundation and basis for the annulment.

Before the Master’s Hearing, he was advised by our offices to locate records within the residence that she owned. He went into the attic and found, below many boxes of clothing, a box of papers including the release from federal prison which described her entire criminal and prison records and the discharge from a psychiatric hospital which provided complete medical, social, psychiatric, and criminal history! Also, there was correspondence from the Social Security Administration entitling her to Social Security disability income as well as her birth certificate stating she was 45 years of age, not 32.

When an annulment is sought, the party who seeks the annulment files a pleading called a complaint. The grounds for seeking an annulment include a marriage procured by duress, fraud, and/or mental incapacity.

Duress warranting the annulment of a marriage must have existed at the time of the actual marriage and be of such a character as to instill a just fear of great bodily harm and the direct inducement for entering into the marriage.

In order for fraud to justify an annulment, it must be of such character as to go to the very foundation of the marriage contract and affect the free consent of the injured party. Fraud or misrepresentation of one’s rank, fortune, habits, temperament, or the like, does not go to the foundation of the marriage and does not justify an annulment. The fraud is sufficient when it relates to essential matters necessarily affecting the health or well-being of the parties themselves or any offspring of the marriage.

After the complaint was filed, a summons was issued by the court and both were given to the spouse whom the action was against. A court date was scheduled before a Master who heard the case and made a recommendation to grant or deny the annulment. Ultimately, the annulment was granted on the basis of fraud, i.e., the deceit that the wife stated that she did not have a criminal record. Upon the entry of the Judgment of Annulment, the marriage not only terminated but it was as though the marriage never existed– with a number of exceptions, including the division of property acquired during the marriage.