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Divorce Versus Annulment

Every so often I get asked about the distinction between a dissolution of marriage and annulment in Missouri. The distinction lies in the fact that a divorce ends a valid, pre-existing marriage. An annulment, on the other hand, declares that the supposed marriage between two parties never existed — that is it was void ab initio (void from the beginning). A divorce is contingent on a valid marriage, while an annulment is a Court finding saying the marriage never existed.

A divorce in Missouri will be granted if the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Generally, this is a point agreed on by the parties. As such, most of the disputes in a divorce proceeding center on not whether a divorce should or should not be granted, but instead on how the property should be allocated, whether Separate Maintenance (AKA Alimony) should be awarded, Child Custody (if applicable), Child Support (if applicable), and property and Marital Debt in a Divorce.

Much of the fights with annulments focus on whether it should even be granted by the court. There is no specific annulment statute in Missouri. Rather, two statutory sections hint at annulment by saying certain marriages are void:

451.020. All marriages between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brothers and sisters of the half as well as the whole blood, between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, first cousins, and between persons who lack capacity to enter into a marriage contract, are presumptively void; and it shall be unlawful for any city, county or state official having authority to issue marriage licenses to issue such marriage licenses to the persons heretofore designated, and any such official who shall issue such licenses to the persons aforesaid knowing such persons to be within the prohibition of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor; and this prohibition shall apply to persons born out of lawful wedlock as well as those in lawful wedlock. It shall be presumed that marriages between persons who lack capacity to enter into a marriage contract are prohibited unless the court having jurisdiction over such persons approves the marriage.

451.030. All marriages, where either of the parties has a former wife or husband living, shall be void, unless the former marriage shall have been dissolved.

Moreover, there are certain circumstances developed in Missouri case precedent in which an annulment may be awarded, such as impotency or fraudulent inducement.

While there are different analytical structures for divorce and marriage, they do always end a marriage (or at least formally state that there never was one). Two paths to the same destination, but the collateral lifelong consequences of a divorce and annulment do differ (i.e., married versus never having been married).

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