When a marriage annulment occurs, a court declares that the marriage was never legally valid to begin with. It is a procedure that dissolves a marriage and declares it null and void. The effect of an annulment is to treat the marriage as though it never happened. Annulments are generally granted by a family court judge.
In many instances, an annulment is requested by only party involved, although a court is more inclined to grant the annulment when both parties request it. Regardless of who wishes to have the marriage annulled, they will need to bring an annulment action to a family court. If one party disagrees with the action, the court will hold a hearing in order to consider whether there are grounds for an annulment. Grounds for an annulment include:
- Fraud or Misrepresentation: This could occur if one party’s consent to being married was obtained by trick, or under false pretenses. An example of this would be if one party falsely tells the other party that they are not married to anyone else. If a person agrees to enter into a marriage solely because of a specific representation made by the other person, and that representation turns out to be false, a court may then grant the annulment. The party seeking the annulment on this basis must prove to the court that if not for the false representation, they would not have entered into the marriage;
- Incest, Underage, or Bigamy: If parties are closely related by blood, it may violate their state’s incest laws. Underage annulment occurs when one of the parties were underage at the time of marriage. It may also occur when one of the parties was under the age of consent to be married for their state, and there was no parental consent. Annulment as a result of bigamy results if one of the parties is married to multiple individuals. In such a case, the court would likely rule in favor of a marriage annulment; or
- Mental Impairment: In order for a marriage to be considered legal, both parties must have entered into the marriage knowingly and voluntarily. This means both parties must have been fully aware of what they were getting into. Thus, at the time of marriage, if one or both of the parties involved was sufficiently mentally impaired and was not able to knowingly consent to the marriage, an annulment may be granted. Coercion or force also qualifies as grounds for annulment as a person cannot knowingly and voluntarily consent to be married if they have been coerced or threatened into being married.
Simply being dissatisfied with the marriage, or wishing it had never happened, is not enough to warrant an annulment. Annulments differ from divorce in that a divorce occurs when a legal marriage is terminated, but the fact remains that the couple was once married. That fact forms each party’s legal obligations, such as alimony or child support.
When an annulment is granted, rendering the marriage void, neither party has a legal obligation to each other any longer. The two are very different, and as such, there are differences in the legal property rights and division of assets between the parties.
Since an annulment essentially renders a marriage void, there has not actually been a change in the legal status of the property of either party involved. Additionally, as annulments are generally granted a short time after the marriage, it is relatively easy for courts to determine who legally owns what property. Courts responsible for dividing assets in annulment will attempt to try to leave the couple in the same financial state as before the marriage. If the parties did not obtain any marital assets over the course of their marriage, each party will be left with whatever money and property they brought into the marriage.
If the marriage is annulled after a longer period of time, the process is more complicated, as the couple likely did obtain shared property or assets during the marriage. In such cases, the court will need to decide how that property is to be divided. This is usually done by tracing the property back to its original purpose and determining which spouse purchased the property. The court will attempt to reach a fair or equitable resolution for both parties by considering the facts and circumstances in each case. A fair resolution for both parties is one that considers the specific needs of each party, including their financial needs.
A court may also award temporary alimony and child support to void marriages that have gone on for some time. For example, in cases where one “spouse” depended on the other for financial support, a court may award alimony in order to restore that spouse to the financial position they occupied before the marriage that is being annulled. Child support is granted in order to protect innocent parties from being affected by the decisions of the spouses seeking annulment.
The division of assets is a complicated issue, whether the parties involved are seeking a divorce or an annulment. Thus, if you have any issues regarding annulments or the division of assets, should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney will help you understand your state’s laws regarding annulment and property division. Additionally, they can represent you in court as needed.