Annulment Overview

When a marriage breaks down, spouses may consider options beyond divorce, such as a legal separation or an annulment. People who belong to certain religions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, may find annulment an especially appealing alternative. If remarriage after divorce is not recognized in your faith, an annulment may allow you to pursue a remarriage that is valid on religious as well as civil grounds.

A key difference between divorce and annulment is that with an annulment, the spouses are treated as though they never were married in the first place. For example, your legal status on forms will be “single” after an annulment, rather than “divorced.” If you have any children from a marriage that you have annulled, those children still will be considered legally legitimate, but they may not be considered legitimate in the eyes of your religion. This may be an important issue to consider when deciding whether an annulment is right for your situation. However, couples seeking annulments typically have not been married long enough to have children together.

A second difference is that most states now allow a simple, no-fault divorce, which allows a couple to dissolve their marriage without proving that one spouse or the other engaged in misconduct. When you are pursuing a civil annulment, in contrast, you must have a reason beyond irreconcilable differences to justify ending your marriage.

You will be able to divide your property after a civil annulment in the same way as if you had pursued a conventional divorce. In the event that you do have children with your spouse, the same rules as in divorce will apply to determining issues of child support and child custody.

Only a civil annulment can legally end your relationship and all of your responsibilities related to it. Religious annulments affect only one’s standing in a faith community and are typically not recognized by the government or other official agencies.

Grounds for a Civil Annulment

The only way to obtain a civil annulment that legally dissolves your marriage is by proving one of the following grounds:  fraud or misrepresentation, lack of consummation, incest, bigamy, lack of consent, unsound mind, or force. This probably means that you will need to consult a lawyer, which is an expense that you may not need to incur if you are pursuing a no-fault divorce.

These are some examples of how you might show the necessary grounds for a civil annulment.

  • One spouse might be physically incapable of having children, and that spouse might have lied about it to the other spouse. This would involve both fraud and lack of consummation.
  • Incest is defined as a relationship between two blood relatives who would be banned from legal marriage in their state.
  • Bigamy happens when one person is already married at the time of marrying someone else.
  • Lack of consent can happen when one spouse is too young to consent on his or her own behalf, and the other spouse did not get proper consent from the parents of the underage spouse.
  • You may be able to show unsound mind if you or your spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of your marriage. If you were prevented by intoxication or by a mental disorder from understanding what you were doing, you may be able to get an annulment.
  • Finally, a marriage can be annulled if one spouse threatened, blackmailed, or coerced the other spouse into marriage.

If none of these situations applies to you, however, it may be difficult to convince a judge to grant a civil annulment. You may still be able to obtain a religious annulment, but this will have no effect on your legal responsibilities as spouses.

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