Divorce isn't the only way to end a marriage, and it isn't always the right method to use. Annulment ends a marriage, and even goes a step further - it voids the marriage. In the eyes of the law, the marriage never happened.
Annulment has limits, but the law gives this option to those who truly shouldn't have married in the first place. Ending a marriage is rarely an easy thing to do, but you can make the best decisions for yourself when you know and understand your choices.
When Is Annulment an Option?
Annulment voids a marriage because it was invalid for some reason. So, if you can't show grounds for annulment, you won't qualify. Grounds fall into three main categories, based on a spouse's mental or physical condition, or legal issues.
A problem or impairment with a spouse's mental state at the time of marriage can be grounds for annulment. When someone's mental state is impaired, he or she can't give valid consent to the marriage. Someone may lack the ability to give consent when:
- Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Coerced or forced into the marriage
- He or she doesn't intend to truly get married, such as someone saying "I do" as a joke or on a dare
- One spouse makes untrue statements and the other spouse agrees to marry based on belief and reliance that they were true
Incurable impotence that prevents marriage consummation can be grounds for annulment as long as you didn't know about your spouse's impotence before you married.
Legal Issues and an Invalid Marriage
Some factors make it illegal for people to marry, and are grounds for annulment. Depending on the problem, state law may offer annulment, divorce or both methods as ways to end the marriage. It may be illegal to marry when:
- Someone is married to someone else at the time of marriage
- A person is underage and doesn't have parental consent or court approval to get married (annulment may not be available if someone remains married once he or she reaches legal adult age)
- The marriage is incestuous. Most states outlaw marriages when couples are closer than second cousins
Annulment Pros and Cons
Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of annulment before you decide on how to end your marriage.
The main benefit of annulment is the law treats the marriage as if it never existed. It's over, and there are no further issues to deal with. Divorce, on the other hand, may mean involvement with your ex-spouse for years to come on issues such as support, property division and raising children.
Some people seek annulment for religious reasons because its important to remove the marriage from existence, in the law and in their faith.
Look at the disadvantages of annulment as well:
- Proving the grounds for annulment may be more complex, difficult and costly than a divorce (all states have a no-fault option available)
- State law may place time limits on annulment, and your window to use it may have closed already
- When a couple has children, annulment may carry negative consequences touching social, family and religious issues
Annulment isn't for everyone. Only a small percentage of those who are married can even qualify for one. If you think annulment may be right for you, talk to your attorney and move ahead knowing you've made the right choice.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My church will annul my marriage, so should I use divorce or annulment to end my marriage in the courts?
- How does annulment affect legal rights that are usually connected to divorce, such as keeping health insurance through COBRA and Social Security benefits?
- Are court files for cases involving annulment sealed, or can anyone see the grounds for my case?
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