Annulment, like divorce, is a way of ending a marriage. But there are important differences between the two. While a divorce puts a legal end to an existing marriage, an annulment effectively declares the marriage void – as if it never existed in the first place. A person who receives an annulment isn’t a divorcee – they’re a person who was never legally married to begin with.
This distinction can be important for both legal and personal reasons. Annulments are far less common than divorces, and a person seeking an annulment must usually meet certain strict criteria if they want to receive the annulment (although they can usually easily get a divorce if the annulment isn’t granted.) Take a look at what you need to know about when an annulment can be granted.
If at the time of the marriage, one spouse was already legally married to someone else, that’s known as bigamy. Because you can only legally be married to one person at one time, a marriage between a single person and an already-married person is void, and the person who was single at the time of the marriage can receive an annulment and be considered to never have been married in the first place.
Laws vary by state, but in many cases, it’s the wronged party – in this case, the person who was single at the time of the marriage – who must file and ask for the annulment. Additionally, the person who got married while still legally married to a different person may face charges for bigamy, depending on state law.
While minors being married, either to adults or to other minors, is legal under some circumstances and even common in some areas, minors who get married do have the option of annulment if they pursue it before they reach adulthood.
In other words, if a minor is married at the age of 15 and then wishes to have the marriage annulled at 16 or 17, they can do so. However, once both members of the couple have reached legal adulthood, if they continue to live together, they’ll lose the option of annulment and will need to go the divorce route if they wish to end the marriage.
A marriage can be annulled if one or both of the parties in the marriage were of unsound mind at the time of the marriage. Often, this means that one or both people in the marriage were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage. If you or your partner were intoxicated to the point that you weren’t responsible for your actions, an annulment may be the way to go.
An annulment on the grounds of unsound mind may also be sought if one spouse (or both) lacked the mental capacity to consent to marriage at the time of the marriage. For example, someone whose mental state required that someone else had to have conservatorship over their affairs probably lacks the mental capacity to consent to marriage, which means that the marriage can be annulled.
Fraud or Misrepresentation
An annulment can be granted when one party is the victim of fraud or misrepresentation by the other party, such as when one spouse hides their inability to have children or their financial debts until after the marriage is complete, or when one party has assumed a false ID and their spouse has no knowledge of their true identity. In order to preserve the right to an annulment, the spouse who was defrauded must separate from their spouse as soon as they discover the deception.
It’s important to note that in cases where one spouse might seek alimony in the event of a divorce, an annulment means that no alimony can be awarded. In an annulment, the marriage is legally void, as if it never happened. The court cannot order a person to pay spousal support to someone who was technically never their spouse. Discovering that the marriage was entered into fraudulently, especially if it’s long after the fact, can lead to some difficult decisions because spouses must decide whether to annul the marriage and proceed as if it never happened or to get divorced and seek support that they may need.
Failure to Consummate
One condition of annulment that most people are aware of is a failure to consummate the marriage. This may happen when one partner is unable to consummate the marriage but fails to disclose this condition to the other partner. If the marriage cannot be consummated and the person who wants the annulment can show that they had no reason to expect that the marriage would not be able to be consummated, then the marriage may be considered void.
In some religious traditions, adherents are not considered free to enter into a new relationship or a new marriage unless any previous marriages have been annulled. This is true whether or not they have a right to a legal annulment. In these cases, there’s often an annulment process that can be taken through the church or religious governing body that will annul the marriage in the eyes of the religious leaders so that a new marriage can receive the approval of the religious body.
A religious annulment received through a church or other religious group does not change the necessity for the person to have a legal divorce or annulment before entering a new legal marriage. Religious annulments are a matter of personal choice, faith, and religious rules, not a legal matter, and annulments granted through a church or other religious governing body don’t carry any legal weight.
If you need an annulment for religious reasons, you may be able to get one through your church even if you don’t qualify for a legal annulment, but if you don’t qualify for the legal annulment, you’ll still need to obtain a legal divorce before you can remarry. Take care not to confuse religious rules and customs with legal procedures and precedent.
If you’re in need of an annulment or a divorce, a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you determine what documents you need and what the best strategy is for leaving your marriage.