A marriage annulment is a legal process that dissolves a marriage and declares it null and void. What separates a divorce from an annulment is that a divorce terminates a legally entered into marriage whereby an annulment is a court declaration that the marriage never existed (or should never have existed). Both annulment and divorce cause the parties to return to single or unmarried status.
Contrary to a popular myth, annulments are not reserved solely for marriages of shorter duration. In the U.S. each of the fifty states regulate marriage, divorce and annulment within their respective states, and at least one party must meet the same residency requirements to file for an annulment as they would if they filed for a divorce. Marriages that get annulled are done so on grounds that fall into one of two categories: a void marriage or a voidable marriage.
Void Marriage – one of the parties may invalidate the marriage. If annulled, the marriage is regarded as never having taken place, and is invalid from the start. Essentially, a void marriage had an impediment at the time the ceremony took place, and a decree of annulment declares that no lawful marriage had come into existence.
Voidable Marriage – the marriage is lawful until or unless one of the parties petitions the court during the lifetimes of both parties. and proves that certain conditions existed during the marriage that made the union voidable.
For an explanation on how an annulment and a divorce differ, consider this. An attorney has one or more licenses to practice law. If the professional licenses are taken away due to improper behavior, the licenses are considered no longer valid, and a legitimate license to practice is suspended or revoked (the person’ is divorced from his or her licenses). Thus, the contract is broken.
On the other hand, if it is discovered that the attorney never completed the requirements of that profession (e.g. never passed the bar exam), that person was never legally able to practice law, and the attorney’s past legal activities are nullified.
Grounds for Annulment
In general terms, annulments are granted when a party to the marriage provides proof that one or more grounds apply to his or her marriage. Annulment laws vary by state, so check the laws that apply to you.
- There was some element of fraud at the time of the marriage. This can be due to the concealment of a criminal history, impotence, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.
- Mental disability – one or both did not have the mental capacity to enter into a marriage contract. (i.e. due to drunkenness or mental disability – lack of awareness they were married).
- Consanguinity – Some U.S. states forbid cousins to be married. Others are more lenient and only forbid people to marry their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, or aunts and uncles. Consanguinity is a ground for annulment in most states.
- Bigamy – Bigamy is the act or condition of a person married to another person while still being lawfully married to a third person.
- Polygamy – Situation in which one man is either married to or involved in sexual relationships with a number of different women at one time, married or not.
Questions and Answers
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