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What is Annulment?

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What is Annulment?

Annulment is a procedure for legally terminating a marriage.  It is similar to divorce except that it cancels the marriage completely, as if the marriage never occurred.  The grounds for annulment are more specific, especially when compared to states that allow no-fault divorce. 

Annulment procedures may not be available in all jurisdictions, and will depend on the facts of each individual relationship.  They are often common in short-term situations where a person quickly realizes that the marriage is not based on acceptable legal grounds.

What are Some Grounds for Annulment?

Unlike no-fault divorce, annulment must be based on a tangible reason, and cannot be performed simply based on mere sentiments or regrets.  This is because annulment legally extinguishes the existence of the marriage, and therefore must be based on sufficient legal grounds. 

Some grounds for annulment of a marriage may include:

  • Fraud- A marriage that is based on fraud may be annulled and considered legally invalid
  • Coercion- Similarly, a marriage contract cannot be entered into under conditions involving coercion (threats of force or harm)
  • Immigration or citizenship fraud- A common violation involves a sham marriage entered into solely for the purpose of obtaining a green card or U.S. citizenship.  Such marriages can be annulled
  • Sexual relationship- for example, lying about the desire to have children or not
  • Other misrepresentations:  misrepresentations regarding one’s finances, religion, prior  history of abuse, or criminal record can often be considered a grounds for divorce

Thus, one of the main grounds for annulment is a misrepresentation of certain facts that would lead one party into believing that they were marrying a different person from their expectations.   Such grounds will be more convincing if the misrepresentation is done before marriage or during the early stages of marriage (i.e., the person had based their decision to marry on the misrepresentation)

Other grounds for annulment may include the failure to disclose a prior marriage, or intoxication during the marriage ceremony, which renders the person unable to make a legal decision.  Again, the evidence required to prove these grounds may vary by state and jurisdiction.

What are the Legal Effects of Annulment?

Again, the effect of annulment is that the marriage was never valid; it’s as if the marriage never existed, legally speaking.  This may yield different legal effects compared to marriage, especially regarding the division of assets

Since the couple was never technically married (for legal purposes), the court probably won’t enforce distributions of property that reflect community property or shared property status.  Division of property during any termination of marriage is generally complicated, whether it be through divorce or annulment.  The advice of a lawyer is typically required for help with annulment of marriage.    

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Need Help With an Annulment?

Filing for an annulment has many different requirements as well as legal consequences.  You may wish to contact a family lawyer if you have any questions or concerns regarding marriage annulment.  Your attorney can advise you of your options, and can explain how annulment may affect you.  A qualified lawyer in your area can provide you with expert legal representation during court proceedings.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-07-2012 01:59 PM PST

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