Invalid Marriage Laws

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is a Common Law Marriage?

We all know marriage – a civil union wherein the state officially says you’re married by law.

There is a little-known type of marriage called “common law” marriage. This legal framework allows spouses to be regarded as married even though their union has never been recognized in a legal ceremony. In other words, you and your spouse are considered a married pair for inheritance and other potential legal concerns without going through the formalities of getting a marriage license.

Once a common law marriage has been established, it is considered just as valid and legally binding as a traditional marriage.

While common law marriages are not common, they are permitted in some states if the parties meet specific conditions:

  • Colorado
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

A common law marriage must meet many prerequisites in the majority of states to be recognized:

  • Neither of them may be wed to someone else already
  • Both must be mentally stable
  • A couple is required by law to cohabitate for some time
  • In most states, both must be 18 years of age or older
  • Both parties must want to get married
  • The couple must present themselves to the general public as married. Evidence would include adopting the same last name, opening joint bank accounts, taking loans out in both names, calling each other “husband” and “wife,” etc.

The effort to be married without the formalities doesn’t always work out. A couple living as a married couple may find that their marriage is not valid.

What Is an Invalid Marriage?

An invalid marriage is, quite simply, a marriage arrangement that is not recognized as valid and legal by the law. Marriages found to be invalid may require an annulment instead of a divorce when the couple no longer wishes to be married or when the marriage must be dissolved due to its invalidity.

Some specific examples of circumstances in which a marriage may be invalid include:

  • Bigamy: Bigamy occurs when one spouse is already married to someone else. This can happen when either or both of the people involved in a relationship are wrong in their belief that a previous marriage ended because of a divorce.
  • Incest: Each state makes it illegal to commit incest. Incest is a crime involving a sexual relationship between persons closely related by blood or adoption. Marrying a close relative violates state incest laws. A marriage is invalid if it is entered into by two people who are closely related to each other. Note: some states do allow marriages between first cousins if the parties are beyond the age of conceiving a child.
  • Age of consent: Each state has a statute that prescribes the minimum age requirements for a marriage. In general, the range is between 16 and 18 years old. Marriages involving a child who is not of the age of consent in that state are invalid.
  • Immigration fraud: Foreigners who enter into a marriage solely to obtain U.S. immigration benefits violate U.S. immigration law. This type of marriage is known as a sham or green card marriage and is illegal. Note: Sham marriages, for other reasons, are invalid as well. Any time the couple did not intend to wed for the sake of marriage but did so to reap certain benefits (e.g., military spouse benefits).
  • Coercion: In a marital setting, coercion refers to when a person threatens or forces their partner to enter marriage. Coercion invalidates the contract the parties entered when they said, “I do,” since no contract is valid if it wasn’t entered into freely.
  • Mental impairment: One of the primary requirements of entering into a marriage is that both parties voluntarily and knowingly consent to the marriage. If one party does not have the mental capacity to understand what marriage means, that marriage is invalid.
  • Proxy: Both spouses must be present at the time in which the marriage ceremony was performed. If one or both spouses were not physically present at the time, the marriage is invalid.

What Else Should I Know About Invalid Marriages?

Understanding the differences between a void marriage and a voidable marriage is important. A void marriage refers to an invalid marriage from the time it occurred. As such, it is treated as though it never existed.

Void marriages may be annulled at the request of either spouse. Additionally, any third party (such as a bureaucratic or police entity) may challenge the marriage as void. All states consider the following marriages to be void:

  • Incest
  • Polygamy
  • Bigamy
  • Sham marriages

Some states also consider underage marriages to be void marriages.

Voidable marriages can be annulled if they are challenged by one of the spouses, but if neither party involved challenges the marriage, it remains valid. All states consider the following marriages to be voidable:

  • Marriage by fraud
  • Marriage by proxy
  • Marriage by duress
  • Marriage in which at least one spouse is mentally incapacitated
  • Some states consider underage marriages to be voidable.

Both void and voidable marriages can be annulled. Annulment is an alternative to divorce. In a divorce, the government recognizes that:

  1. There was a real marriage, and
  2. It has ended. The marriage was never in an annulment, so there is nothing to end

Generally, if your marriage is void or voidable and the court has granted an annulment, you and your former spouse can go your separate ways. You have no legal obligation to one another, although if there are children, the court will expect the couple to make child custody and child support arrangements.

Although your marriage never legally existed, courts recognize that one party may have misled or wronged the other, such as in fraud cases. In these cases, the deceiving party would be liable for that deception.

If you believed in good faith that your marriage was valid, you are considered a putative spouse. An example would be if you believed the person who performed the ceremony had the legal right to do so, but they did not. You are a putative spouse. You might still have some of the same rights you would have had, had your marriage been legal. Laws vary from state to state, but most jurisdictions legally protect putative spouses.

As such, a court may require the couple to go through divorce proceedings to dissolve the marriage. All typical rules governing property division would apply.

Do I Need an Attorney for Invalid Marriage Laws?

If you would like to be out of an invalid marriage, or if you have found out that your marriage is not valid when you believe it was, you should consult a skilled and knowledgeable family lawyer in your area.

An experienced family lawyer can help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding invalid marriages, as well as what your rights and options are. Additionally, they can represent you in a court of law as needed.

If there are any changes or updates to family laws that might affect your legal options, your attorney can keep you informed so that your rights are protected. Family laws can be complicated, but your attorney can ensure that you receive the legal services and representation you need from start to finish during the process.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer