When you get divorced, it ends your marriage. An annulment, on the other hand, treats a marriage as though it never existed. The two aren't interchangeable, and an annulment normally is more difficult to obtain.
Although there's relatively little stigma attached to divorce today, some people still view it as socially unacceptable. These individuals are likely to pursue an annulment, with divorce as a last resort. Likewise, there are those who seek an annulment for religious reasons.
The bottom line is that in today's environment you're much more likely to qualify for a divorce than an annulment. So the choice of which avenue to pursue may be out of your hands.
A marriage can be annulled only when the law concludes that your marriage was "void" or "voidable." In order to make that determination, it's crucial to examine the circumstances surrounding the marriage.
There's a major distinction between "void" and "voidable." A void marriage automatically qualifies for an annulment, because it's based on an illegal act. In a voidable marriage, however, legal reasons for an annulment may exist, but they won't invalidate the marriage unless one of the spouses requests the annulment.
As indicated above, a void marriage wasn't legal to begin with. Two of the most common underlying reasons for considering a marriage void are the illegal acts of "bigamy" and "incest". A bigamous marriage exists when one of the spouses was legally married to someone else when the marriage took place. An incestuous marriage occurs when the spouses are close family members. Exactly what constitutes a close family member depends on a particular state's law. Some are obvious, like brother and sister. But some states may also ban marriage between first cousins.
Some of the more common scenarios that could make a marriage voidable are:
Regarding voidable marriages, it's important to note that if you ratified (approved) the marriage after discovering the circumstances that could make it invalid, it's not likely a court will grant an annulment. Continuing to live together as a married couple after learning about the condition that could potentially invalidate the marriage is a typical example of ratification.
The most obvious effect of an annulment is that it renders the marriage null and void. But there are other possible consequences. For example, it could impact a spouse's ability to get support (alimony) from the other spouse. Likewise, it might affect a spouse's rights to property acquired during the marriage. So you should definitely consult with a family law attorney before making any decisions regarding annulment.
Most annulments come about relatively shortly after a marriage, although there can be exceptions. Some states won't allow an application for an annulment after a certain time period. To learn more about your state's annulment laws, see the Annulment section of our website.
In answer to the question how soon can you get a divorce after marriage, state laws aren't usually restrictive. But remember that divorce laws are state-specific, so you'd have to check your state's statutes to determine divorce eligibility.