California is considered a community property state, which means all properties and assets acquired after the marriage takes place are considered evenly shared between both parties. When the marriage is dissolved (referred to as a divorce or dissolution of marriage) those properties/assets are divided jointly.
Annulments are very different than a divorce. When a marriage is annulled, it is as if that marriage never took place at all. Once the annulment goes through, there is no legal record of the marriage, and neither party is beholden to any of the laws pertaining to a legal marriage or divorce. For the most part, properties, assets, financial holdings gained individually during the marriage, etc., return back to their pre-marital status.
We recommend reading our post, Annulment of Marriage, to learn more about the ins-and-outs of marriage vs. annulment. You may find that your marriage does not qualify for an annulment, in which case you’ll need to pursue a divorce, and property and assets may be divided after all.
The Basics When It Comes To Property Division
How Annulment Differs from Divorce (or a Dissolution of Marriage)
First and foremost, it’s important to know that annulment isn’t an option for all. The courts only grant an annulment if, there is evidence of fraud that led or induced an individual to get married in the first place:
- Bigamy (one or the other is already legally married to someone else)
- Incest (the individuals are too closely related by blood in accordance with the state’s laws)
- One or both of the parties were married by force
- There is a physical incapacity to consummate the marriage
- One or both of the individuals are 17 years old or younger
- One or both of the individuals are of unsound mind
- Someone was intoxicated at the time
- Domestic violence and/or substance abuse is discovered within 6 months of the marriage date
If you feel your marriage qualifies for annulment, we recommend consulting with an experienced divorce attorney in your area to make sure before moving forward.
Property Division in an Annulment
Assuming your marriage qualifies for an annulment, your assets, retirement plans, properties, etc., you held before you were married automatically return to their original owner/holder. Because most annulments take place within a relatively short time after the marriage, it is relatively easy for the divorce to facilitate their division between both parties.
If, however, you have been married for some time, and have acquired assets or properties together while you were married, things become more difficult. In this case, an experienced divorce attorney is your greatest asset when determining what belongs to who.
Also, the longer a marriage has gone on prior to an annulment, the more likely a court may order temporary alimony if one spouse was dependent on the other for income or financial support. Similarly, the court may order temporary child support for “step-children” to eliminate any chance that innocent parties are negatively impacted by the loss of financial stability. Even so, these orders are typically only temporary, granted for the length of time the court feels is required for the individual to get back on his/her feet and begin earning an income again.
Because the division of jointly held properties, financial assets, a jointly held business, and other assets is so complicated, it is generally recommended that both parties hire an attorney if there is any disagreement about property division.
Child Custody Issues are Handled Separately
If any children were conceived by you and your spouse, or your recently annulled marriage, your state’s child custody laws will dictate how legal and physical custody, visitation, and child support payments are handled. Whether or not your marriage was annulled will have zero effect on how child custody is handled because the law protects a child’s well being above all else.
If there is a question pertaining to the paternity of your child(ren), we recommend visiting our post, What You Need to Know About Paternity Law in California.
Have You Considered Mediation to Settle Your Annulment?
Have you considered mediation, rather than court-based annulment proceedings? Mediation via a professional law professional is a cost-effective – not to mention an emotion-effective – way to settle an annulment.
Mediation can save you thousands of dollars and can prevent things from becoming emotionally ugly. A mediator will explain the law surrounding asset and property distribution during annulment vs. divorce and can offer input as to how the court is most likely to decide things if you pursue your case in court. Mediators are completely neutral parties, which help to de-escalate high tension and emotions.
We’re Here For You
The compassionate team here in the Law Offices of Jerald A. Falzone is here to answer questions pertaining to property divisions in both annulments and divorce. We can serve as mediators or can represent you in court when you need strong and effective support. Contact us to schedule your free consultation.