Ending Your Marriage

There are several ways to end a marriage, including an annulment, a declaration of nullity and a divorce. There is also a legal separation, which doesn’t end the marriage but allows the spouses to live separate and apart.

An action for annulment is a legal action that ends a marriage by treating it as if it never happened. There are specific reasons you can use to get an annulment.  Annulments are not common and are often difficult to get.  When the court gives you an annulment, it issues an order of dissolution that divides your property and addresses issues such as child support and child custody.

An action for divorce is the most common legal action asking a court to end a marriage. In New York, you can ask for either a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce.  In a no-fault divorce, you do not have to prove your spouse has done something wrong. In a fault divorce you have to show your spouse did one of several possible things that has made it necessary to get a divorce.

Also there are contested divorces and uncontested divorces. In a contested divorce, the detailed terms of the divorce have to be determined by court procedures, possibly including a trial. In an uncontested divorce, the terms are determined by agreement between the divorcing spouses or, with court approval, by the spouse who starts the action if the other spouse doesn’t participate in the legal process.

If the court decides to allow your divorce, it issues a judgment of divorce which includes the terms of divorce, including division of property, spousal support, child custody, child support, shared parenting, and other terms.  When that judgment is recorded in the county clerk’s office, your marriage ends.

If you and your spouse want to live separately from each other, but you cannot or do not want to get a divorce at this time, there is another option called legal separation.  If you both want the separation, you can both sign a separation agreement establishing the terms of the separation and file it in the County Clerk’s office and pay the court filing fee. If your spouse doesn’t want a separation, or if you can’t agree on the terms, you can begin a legal action asking the court to order a separation and to establish its terms.

In certain rare cases a marriage may be automatically invalid under the law, so there is actually never a marriage at all. In such a case you can ask the court for a declaration of nullity, creating a formal record that the marriage is and always was null and void.

Legal Editor: Charlotte Lee, April 2015 (updated February 2019)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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