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What’s the Difference Between Divorce, Annulment, and Legal Separation in CO?

CO Divorce

Divorce, annulment, and legal separation are three different ways of ending a functioning marriage. Nevertheless, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Legal separation, for example, is sometimes followed by divorce or reconciliation. Each one of these options generates its own set of distinctive legal consequences.


Divorce is the legal end of a marriage. If you believe your marriage is “irretrievably broken,” then you can get divorced. Even if the other spouse wants to save the marriage, that won’t prevent the divorce from going forward.


An annulment of a marriage is a declaration by a court that no valid marriage ever existed in the first place. As such, its effect is retroactive to the wedding date. Following are some of the common legal grounds that can you can use to justify the annulment of your Colorado marriage:

  • Mental Capacity – One spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent either by mental illness or being under the influence of drugs or other substances.
  • Physical Capacity – One spouse cannot sexually consummate the marriage, and the other spouse did not know of this disability by the time of the wedding.
  • Underage – One of the spouses was underage (legal age is 18. A 17-year-old or 16-year old without the consent of parents or court, cannot marry younger than 16).
  • Fraud – One party entered into the marriage in reliance upon a false act or representation going to the “essence” of the marriage. (a foreign spouse married a US citizen solely to obtain immigration benefits, for example.)
  • Duress – Someone used force to coerce one or both spouses into the marriage (a ‘shotgun wedding,’ for example).
  • Jest or Dare – the marriage was entered into as a joke or as a game.
  • The marriage was prohibited by other laws – Incest or polygamy, marriage not valid in the first place where it was entered into.

A decree of annulment won’t be issued by a Colorado court unless you were married in Colorado or have resided in the state for at least 30 days prior to filing for an annulment. There are also deadlines for filing for an annulment, depending on which ground you are claiming.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is not merely a halfway house between marriage and divorce — it can become a permanent arrangement all its own. Although a couple can informally separate at just about any time, a formal legal separation is a legal act. Colorado does not require legal separation as a prerequisite to divorce.

To obtain a legal separation, you must file a petition. The court will then divide your property, determine the custody of your children, issue child support or alimony orders, etc., just as it would in a divorce. So, it is not any less work to file for legal separation. The only difference is that the marriage is not dissolved. One spouse can, however, convert the decree of separation into a divorce decree after six months if they choose to do so.

Considering the complexity and expense involved in a legal separation, why bother with one at all? Some couples avoid formal divorce for religious reasons, while others are motivated to remain legally married by tax breaks, insurance availability, etc. Others cling to hopes of an eventual reconciliation.

Prompt, Decisive Action Can Make a Difference

Divorce, annulment, and legal separation represent three very different approaches to changing an unsatisfactory marital relationship. No single approach fits every case, and it is essential to fully understand the legal consequences of pursuing any one of them. It would be unwise to pursue any of these options without an experienced family law firm on your side, to act as your advocate and advisor.

At Perusse Nixon, family law is our only area of practice. With over three decades of combined experience, we rarely run into a problem that we haven’t dealt with successfully. Call us today at (303) 228-2285, to set up a consultation in our Colorado Denver Tech Center office where we can discuss your case and answer your questions. Otherwise, feel free to contact us online 24 hours a day.

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