An annulment of marriage is a legal process that allows a married couple to legally terminate their marriage. In this sense, it is very similar to other processes such as divorce or legal separation. However, annulment of marriage is somewhat unique in the result: once an annulment is completed, the marriage is treated as though it had never occurred. Annulment of marriage is generally reserved for certain conditions or factors in which it becomes necessary to annul or cancel the existence of a marriage and its history.

How Do I Qualify for an Annulment?

Unlike divorce, you cannot simply state “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for an annulment. You must prove a specific legal reason to be granted an annulment, and being married or in a registered domestic partnership for a short period of time is not a sufficient legal reason.

Misrepresentation or Fraud

One common reason for annulment is where there is a misrepresentation or fraud made by one party to another prior to the marriage. The most common misrepresentation is age: if one party claimed to be of a certain age, but was in fact younger, then the marriage would not be valid.

Parentage may also be used to challenge the validity of the marriage. If a pregnant woman convinces a man to marry her under the assumption that the child belongs to the man, but it is later proven that the husband is not the father, then that false representation may be used to annul the marriage (note that this is based on a few state cases – not all states follow this precedent).

Incest or Bigamy – Grounds for Automatic Annulment

Incest or bigamy are grounds for an automatic annulment. A marriage is deemed incestuous when it is between close blood relatives, making it illegal. A bigamous marriage, also illegal, is one in which a spouse married before ending a previous marriage.

Other Grounds for Annulment

Another ground that can be asserted is that one of the spouses or partners was already married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of the union, but the previous spouse or partner was away or missing for at least five years and it was not known if he or she was alive or dead (this makes it different from bigamy).

“Unsound mind” may also be asserted, in which at least one spouse or partner is deemed to have been incapable of understanding the marriage or registered domestic partnership (and its associated duties and responsibilities) when it was entered into. A person may also assert fraud, which usually means the other spouse or partner hid an important fact, such as being infertile or marrying solely for a green card. A marriage or registered domestic partnership may also be annulled if it was entered into due to force. Lastly, if one of the spouses or partners cannot physically consummate the union, annulment may be granted, particularly when the issue does not seem resolvable.

What Are Some Legal Issues Addressed in an Annulment of Marriage?

Like a divorce or a separation, there may be various issues that are addressed during an annulment of marriage. These can include:

  • Division of assets and property between the partners
  • Issues regarding child custody and visitation
  • Name changes and other formalities

However, many annulments happen within a short time after marriage, sometimes within a year or a few months. Thus, in some cases the couple may not actually have any issues with joint property because they have not been together for very long. Each case will be different from the next.

What Other Options Do I Have Besides Annulment?

As mentioned, a marriage can be terminated through divorce or through a legal dissolution of marriage. If the couple needs a temporary "break," they may wish to consider an option such as legal separation. Uncontested divorce may also be an option if both parties consent to the process and are willing to work with one another regarding the various legal issues involved.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with the Annulment of Marriage Process?

Annulment is not always an option in every case, and each state will have different laws under their family law system. You may need to hire a lawyer if you need assistance with annulment of marriage or other similar issues. A family lawyer in your area will be able to guide you through the process and inform you of which options might be most beneficial for your situation.