An “annulment” is a term found in family law. It refers to the legal process of terminating a marriage. In some ways, it is similar to getting a divorce

Although both actions are used to end a marriage. However, the primary difference between them is that an annulment completely erases the marriage, so it is like the marriage never existed. A divorce, on the other hand, dissolves the marriage, but still recognizes that the marriage happened. 

Additionally, annulments have specific requirements that a couple must fulfill before they can ever be granted one. In comparison, the procedure for getting a no-fault divorce, is relatively easier and less strict. 

Another important detail to know about annulment procedures, is that they may not always be available as an option for every jurisdiction. Also, many times annulments are granted based on the factors involved in each case. 

Finally, annulments are most commonly requested by couples in short-term relationships, where one or both of the parties realize that their marriage may not be supported by acceptable legal grounds. 

What are Some Grounds for Annulment?

An annulment cannot be granted simply because a couple is dissatisfied with their choice of spouse, or the marriage itself. A party must meet certain criteria and provide specific reasons for getting the annulment in order for the court to accept it. 

Some grounds for annulling a marriage may include:

  • Fraud: A marriage based on fraud is considered legally invalid and can be annulled. Fraud may exist for a variety of reasons, but generally, one party will trick the other into marrying them based on a particular representation they made that is false and would have stopped the other party from initially entering into the marriage.
    • For example, if one spouse tells the other that they are not married to anyone else, but in fact they are, this will most likely be considered fraud and will invalidate their marriage license.
  • Immigration or Citizenship Fraud: This is slightly different than general fraud because it involves deceiving the federal government. Parties will enter into a marriage for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card or U.S. citizenship. This type of marriage is called, a sham marriage, and is considered a legal violation. 
  • Mental Impairment: Both parties entering into a marriage, must possess a basic understanding of what marriage means. They must both also knowingly and voluntarily consent to the marriage. At the time of the marriage ceremony, if either party is unable to do these things, then there may be grounds for annulling the marriage.
  • Coercion: One party may not force or threaten the other party to enter into a marriage. This is due to the fact that a marriage contract operates under the same principles found in regular contract law—essentially, that a contract agreed to under coercive conditions will be considered invalid.
  •  Incest: Every state has some variation of a law that makes incest illegal. Incest is defined as a sexual relationship between people who are closely related by blood. Since incest is a crime, blood relatives who get married will be in violation of their state’s incest laws. Thus, the marriage will be considered invalid and give rise to the type of reason that is necessary to have a marriage annulled.  
  • Intimate Relations: If prior to the marriage, one party lies about wanting to have children and they know or have reason to know that the other party really wishes to have children, then an annulment may be granted based on the grounds of misrepresentation. 

Misrepresentation and fraud are two of the most common reasons for why a party may seek to have their marriage annulled. Other examples might include: marrying a minor, hiding a criminal record, being intoxicated during the wedding ceremony, and misrepresenting finances or religion. 

Again, grounds for an annulment may vary based on the circumstances, as well as the state or jurisdiction. 

What are Some of the Legal Effects Associated with Annulment?

As mentioned above, when an annulment is granted, it acts to invalidate the marriage. In legal terms, this means that it will be as if the marriage never existed (at least not in the eyes of the law). Thus, for marital law purposes, this could have an impact on how assets are divided or how child custody is awarded.

Although every situation will produce different results, generally speaking, a court will attempt to restore the parties back to the same financial conditions they had prior to getting married. After all, since annulment means that the couple was never technically married, there should be no reason for the court to address community or shared property. 

Regardless of whether a couple is terminating their marriage through divorce or annulment, handling the division of anything previously shared by a married couple is bound to cause some complications. 

To help avoid these issues or any other unnecessary stressors that may result from the situation, you should consider hiring an attorney. They can provide useful information, such as what the best course of action is that will also simultaneously reduce any potential adverse effects.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with Getting an Annulment?

The filing process for getting an annulment involves many requirements that the parties must thoroughly understand. These include knowing which grounds to use for filing, the legal consequences associated with the action, and what laws to apply that are specific to each jurisdiction.

If you have any questions or concerns about getting a marriage annulled, you should contact an experienced family lawyer to help avoid filing errors and so that you can receive important legal advice.

A family lawyer can explain how an annulment may affect you, and provide counsel regarding your options. Lastly, if necessary, a local lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, should any related legal disputes arise.