What happens if you no longer wish to be married but you believe you shouldn’t have to go through a divorce? In such a case, you may wish to pursue an annulment.  

The difference between an annulment and a divorce is that a divorce cancels a legally valid marriage while an annulment is a court declaration that confirms a marriage never actually existed.  

Because the grounds for annulments are very limited, Hawaii family court judges rarely grant them. If you seek an annulment and it is denied, you can still file for divorce if you are legally married.  

Here are the cases in which the court will allow annulments, as long as one or both spouses show legal proof:  

  • Blood relations – If you and your spouse are related (cousins or closer) even if you were aware of the blood ties before the marriage.  
  • Age – If you or your spouse were not legally old enough to be married, which in the state of Hawaii is 18, or as young as 16 with written consent from both sets of parents.  
  •  Already married – If one or both has a living spouse that they are still married to.  
  • Mental capacity – If one party lacks the mental capacity to consent, such as if they were under the influence of alcohol, or if they didn’t have the mental capacity to consent, such as due to an ongoing health condition.   
  • Physical incapacity – If one or both of the parties is impotent, unable to have children, or physically incapable of getting married.  
  • Force, duress, or fraud – If you are forced to go through with marriage while under duress, or if your spouse misrepresented an essential aspect of your marriage. In this case, an annulment is granted only if you didn’t live with your spouse before you were married. 
  • Disease – If your spouse was afflicted with a “loathsome disease” at the time of your marriage and hid it from you.  

Here are the two major benefits of an annulment versus a divorce:   

  • Each spouse leaves the marriage with any money or possessions that they brought into it without litigation. However, there are specific provisions for child custody 
  • If your spouse was already married and you didn’t know about it, you may be entitled to a financial allowance. 

Do you need help deciding whether you should seek an annulment or a divorce? Seth Harris, a senior associate at the PMK family law division, is available to assist you with annulment, divorce, and any other family law needs. For more information, go to www.hawaiilegal.com/practice-areas/family-law-2/.