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While many people have a general idea of how divorce works in Arizona, they may not understand the difference between divorce and another way to dissolve a marriage: annulment. It is important for couples to understand the difference between the two to determine what option best fits their situation.

What Is an Annulment and How Is It Different from Divorce?

Unlike a divorce, which ends a marriage, an annulment invalidates a marriage so it is considered as never having occurred in the eyes of the law. A marriage can be annulled for a variety of reasons. A union may be considered invalid if one of the spouses is under the legal age required to marry, if one or both of the spouses do not have the physical or mental capacity to marry or if either spouse has an undissolved prior marriage.

Other reasons why a marriage could be considered invalid include marriages between blood relatives, marriages in which one or both spouses were intoxicated at the time of the union, marriages between individuals of the same sex and marriages in which one spouse misrepresented their commitment to a certain religion.

If a marriage is annulled by an Arizona family court, a judge will declare that the marriage never existed and that it never should have existed, rendering it void. In an annulment, courts decide how property will be divided and determine child custody.

How Does One File for an Annulment?

In Arizona, the process for filing for an annulment is the same as filing for divorce. First, one spouse must file a Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage. This document starts the legal process and must be filled out completely and accurately for the annulment to proceed.

After the Petition is filed with the court, the filer must serve their spouse, called the respondent in court proceedings, with a copy of the Petition within 120 days. The respondent then has 20 days if he or she lives in Arizona or 30 days if he or she lives out-of-state to respond to Petition, either agreeing to the dissolution or challenging it.

After the respondent replies to the Petition, a hearing or conference is scheduled to hear the arguments for the annulment. Couples who agree that an annulment is appropriate may be able to fast-track the process by signing a Consent Decree. Finally, if the court finds that the marriage is eligible for an annulment under the law, it issues an Order of Annulment.

Since eligibility for an annulment is more complex than for divorce, it is important to enlist the help of an experienced family law attorney who can help you understand if your marriage is eligible for an annulment.

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