Although rarely used these days, annulment of the marriage is a legal option available to couples wanting to legally end the marriage. A marriage can be annulled if certain legal grounds required for annulment are present. Annulment is based on the principle that the marriage was never valid in the first place – there was no marriage. However to annul a marriage, the action to annul the marriage must be initiated within a certain period of time as determined by the nature of the marriage and the applicable state law.
Choosing between annulment and divorce
Annulment and divorce are different. A divorce legally terminates a valid marriage. Only a marriage that the law considers as not valid from day one can be annulled. However in case of an annulment just like a divorce case, the court can order one party to pay child support to the other and decide on the issue of child custody.
A court will order an annulment of a marriage only if one or more of the following are present:
• Retardation, Insanity or Mental Illness: If at the time of the marriage the person was suffering from any mental illness or insanity or retardation, and as a result was not in a position to consent to the marriage, then the court can annul the marriage. Generally persons suffering from retardation, insanity or mental illness are incapable of giving consent.
• Temporary Insanity: In case of temporary insanity, the court will annul the marriage if at the time of the marriage the party did not have the legal capacity to marry or consent to the marriage. However if the party suffers from temporary bouts of insanity and was “normal” at the time of the marriage, the court will not annul the marriage.
• Fraud: The court can annul the marriage on the grounds of fraud if one party misrepresented or lied to induce the other to get married.
• Duress or Lack of Consent: The marriage can be annulled if one party was forced or compelled to enter into the marriage by threat of violence. Marriage is considered a consensual relationship and consent obtained under threat is not a consent. For annulling a marriage on this ground, the court will require actual threats of serious violence.
• Intoxication: If either party was intoxicated by the use of alcohol or drugs at the time of the marriage and the party was incapable of knowing the consequences of entering into the marriage, the court can annul the marriage.
• Non-Consummation (Impotency): If the marriage cannot be consummated due to incurable impotency and the spouse seeking the annulment was not aware of the impotency until after the marriage, the court can annul the marriage on the application of that spouse.
• Parental Consent: If either spouse is under the legal age for marriage in the state, then parental consent of the under aged spouse must be obtained. If the marriage takes places without parental consent or court approval, the marriage can be annulled.
• Bigamy : If either spouse was in an existing marriage at the time of the marriage, then the latter marriage can be annulled. The prior marriage must be legally terminated before the latter marriage for the latter marriage to be valid.
• Incestuous relationships: The law prohibits marriages between persons who are closely related like parents and children, grandparents and grand children, siblings from same parents, first cousins, etc.
• Same Sex Marriages: Only a few states recognize same sex marriages. Same sex marriages that occurred in states that do not recognize same sex marriages are subject to annulment.
• Mock Marriages: A mock marriage is one that is entered into with no intention of a binding relationship. However if the marriage was entered into to accomplish a specific task, for example, legitimizing a child, then the courts will not annul the marriage.
Effects of Annulment
Once a marriage is annulled, the spouses no longer enjoy the rights they enjoyed a married couple. The spouses are now free to marry someone else without filing for a divorce. Here are some of the legal rights that a couple can lose if their marriage is annulled:
• Property Rights: Since there was no marriage to begin with, there is no marital property. As such the spouse who owns the martial home or any other property that is exclusively owned by that spouse can sell or lease it without the consent of the other.
• Succession Rights:Spouses from an annulled marriage will have no right to a share in the other spouse’s estate.
• Alimony: When a marriage is annulled, the court will not award any alimony. If there are children from the marriage, the court may award child support.
• Fathers’ Rights: To get guardian status of the child, a father must prove that he had a reasonable belief that the marriage was valid and the child was born prior to the annulment or within 10 months from the date of the annulment order.