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If you’re considering a divorce in the near future, you may be surprised to learn that there may be a few alternatives available to you.
Annulments and Legal Separations
Under certain circumstances you may qualify for the nullification of your marriage, removing all history of your marriage to reflect its invalidity. If you are considering a divorce but are not yet ready or are unable to officially part ways, a legal separation may be your best bet and a good alternative in the interim. The law allocates two, legal alternatives to divorce for couples in these situations.
Annulment is the legal nullification of marriage, a retroactive measure that makes the marriage void. If you qualify for nullification the courts will treat your marriage as if it never even existed. Annulment became particularly popular in the Catholic Church where divorce is forbidden. King Henry VIII became renown for his four annulments and six marriages, one of which he declared his was invalid because his wife had seduced him with witchcraft. To justify the annulment of a marriage it must be proven that some dishonesty or misrepresentation took place.
Qualifying For An Annulment
In modern day marriages many couples seek an annulment due to fraud- one partner believes they had been deceived or “tricked” in to marrying the other partner. Possible reasons include lying about being infertile, past criminal history or having an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Had the partner known the truth, their decision to marry the other may have been affected. If other egregious errs of dishonesty come to light then the courts may also grant the annulment. Annulments can also be granted if you were not mentally sound or were under the influence of drugs and alcohol when you agreed to marry. Marrying a relative or being forced to marry are automatic reasons for annulment.
There is also room for annulment in the matter of personal disagreements over children and sex. Although a bit archaic, annulments can be granted on the inability to or refusal to consummate the marriage. In addition the courts require parties to disclose any ex-spouses or children, as hiding this part of your past can be considered a deceptive practice and grounds for an annulment. Also if one spouse wants children and the other doesn’t that is also grounds for annulment. Annulment can be a legal alternative to divorce for couples who somehow misrepresented their values and person to each other, allowing couples to bypass the social stigma of divorce.
Legal Separation Versus Divorce
For those of us who entered our relationships with a sound mind and heart, annulment is probably not an option. If you are not quite ready to divorce yet or can’t due to religious reasons, legal separation may be a good choice for you. All divorce processes up to the actual termination of marriage are completed. This includes: separation of debts and assets, child and spousal support and child custody and visitation. The most common reason couples seek a legal separation is because of the financial advantages, however legal separation also leaves open the door open to an easier reconciliation down the road. Legal separations are also quicker and cheaper than a divorce case.
One of the most notable financial advantages of a legal separation is that you will not be held responsible for debts incurred by your spouse during your separation. If you live separately and do not file for a legal separation, the courts will hold you responsible for all debts incurred regardless of your living situation. The IRS handles legal separation as the marriage still being valid, and you or your partner can choose to file together or separately. Legal separation also protects the property and assets you do have, allowing you to keep tabs on valuables like the house or cars.
A legal separation would also allow one spouse to stay on the healthcare and benefits plan of the other, something that may be lost during the divorce process. If the couple remains married for ten years then they would both be eligible for social security and pension benefits. Some religious families also opt to have a legal separation when a divorce is not an option. This way the spouses can lead separate lives and have separate finances, and child custody or spousal support can still be given to maintain the quality of life for the parties involved. Much like in divorce, spousal support can not be given if the couple chooses to remain in the same house (cohabitation), even if they section off areas as their own living quarters. Whether to honor your religion or a chance at reconciliation, legal separation can be a positive alternative to divorce for couples not interested in immediately terminating their marriage.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons we may not have a clear desire to immediately divorce and part ways. Whether you feel as if the marriage was based on falsehoods, or you’re not ready or able to divorce at this time alternatives may be available to you. If you are unsure about your options, speak to a lawyer in your area to discuss which legal plan will best fit your situation, assets and long-term goals.
Jackie is the Digital Strategist for Timothy Durkin, the family law and divorce lawyer of the Jackson White Law Firm in Phoenix, AZ.
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