Divorce Law

Annulling a Marriage

When you get married you expect it last. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Divorce may be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about how to terminate a valid marriage, but there could be another way: annulling the marriage.

An annulment is a legal procedure similar to divorce in that it ends a legal marriage. Unlike a divorce, an annulment, in family law or legal terms, means the marriage never legally existed.

Most people, when they think of an annulment, tend to think of a religious annulment, such as what the Catholic Church does for members. While those exist, they are separate from a legal annulment, which this article will focus on, along with the grounds for an annulment and whether you must file for a legal divorce instead.

Common Grounds for an Annulment

While laws in states vary regarding the grounds for an annulment, there are some common grounds to be found across state laws.

It is always advisable to speak with an experienced family law attorney regarding your specific situation first. An attorney will know your state’s laws and if you qualify for an annulment of your marriage. Some of the common legal grounds are:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation at the time of the marriage, such as one party lying to the other to get the party’s consent to marriage
  • One spouse lacking the capacity to consent to the marriage because they were not of legal age to consent and did not have parental consent or they were legally incompetent due to mental illness
  • The marriage was prohibited or voidable because it was between close family members, such as siblings, first cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews
  • One spouse was still legally married to another person at the time of the marriage

How Is an Annulment Different Than a Divorce?

An annulment legally ends a marriage, just like a divorce. But unlike a divorce, an annulment will be as if the marriage never happened.

The exception is if you had any children during the marriage. All states consider children born during a marriage, even if it is annulled, to be the legal children of you and your ex. This exception to an annulment is for the best interest of the child so that your child can be financially provided for and able to inherit if something happens to one or both parents.

During the annulment process, things like dividing property and debts and ordering spousal support payments do not happen. You may also not have to follow the usual residency requirements or waiting period for filing a divorce. Once you prove to the court that you meet the requirements to have your marriage annulled, you will get a court order that annuls your marriage.

How Do I Get An Annulment?

The actual annulment process will be similar to the divorce process to some extent, as you can see. Similar to a divorce, you will need to file paperwork with the court and follow the proper legal procedure.

First, you need to figure out which court handles annulments in your state. This could be your state or county’s family court, district court, or another court. The paperwork may be a complaint or petition for annulment and may include an annulment form. In that document, you will need to state why you think you qualify to have your legal marriage annulled. In other words, what grounds do you have for an annulment?

After that, the court may set a hearing on the matter if your spouse disagrees. If your spouse agrees, you may be able to quickly file that agreement with the court and get a court order annulling the marriage.

Should I Get an Attorney for an Annulment?

While you do not necessarily need an attorney, and may find forms in a self-help center or online, navigating the court system can be confusing and overwhelming. It is always best to have an experienced family law attorney assist you and give legal advice. If your spouse does not agree to an annulment, an attorney can represent you in a hearing.

If you think you cannot afford an attorney, you should explore legal aid programs in your area. Legal aid programs may provide, if you qualify, an attorney to represent you at little to no cost.

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