Nullification of a marriage is commonly called annulment. Annulment is the process by which a Court states that a marriage never legally existed. An annulment must be based on mental illness, fraud, forced consent, physical incapacity to consummate the marriage, lack of consent to underage marriage or bigamy. Children of a marriage annulled for bigamy or mental illness are legitimate. In anullment cases, the court may award custody of children of the marriage and require payment of child support and support of a party. Annulment is different from divorce.
Divorce is when the Court ends an otherwise legal marriage as of a specific date. Divorce usually involves dividing marital property and debts, setting up child custody and visitation (parenting time) schedules, and awarding child and spousal support. Divorce happens when either the husband or wife can prove the requirements or grounds to end the marriage.
Separation may mean either the date of physical separation or “legal separation”, a Judgment of Legal Separation. The act of physical separation triggers important legal consequences relating to property rights and debt liabilities. Legal separation resembles divorce in that property and debts are usually divided and custody rights and support are awarded, but spouses are still married and cannot remarry. They may still file joint tax returns and be covered dependents on health insurance.
Annulment grounds are limited to fraud, bigamy and insanity. There are specific legal tests to meet these criteria. Either the husband or the wife may apply to the Court for the annulment of a marriage if either party can show any of the following:
Elements for Nullification:
- The other spouse had another husband or wife living at the time of the marriage;
- Either spouse was younger than sixteen at the time of the marriage and did not have court approval;
- Either spouse was sixteen or seventeen at the time of the marriage and did not have parental consent, as long as the annulment action is filed within 60 days after the marriage ceremony;
- Either spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage, as long as the annulment action is filed within 60 days after the marriage ceremony;
- Either spouse was mentally incompetent or unable to consent at the time of the marriage;
- One of them was threatened or forced to get married;
- One of them agreed to be married based on fraudulent statements or actions by the other spouse;
- One of them was physically and incurably impotent at the time of the marriage, unless the other spouse knew about the impotence before the marriage;
- The marriage is one that is prohibited by law due to the relationship between the parties.
Grounds for annulment may be set forth by statute or, in many jurisdictions, common-law grounds suffice. The specific grounds at common law are:
- Undisclosed prior marriage: This occurs when a marriage is entered into by one party still married to third person. Many jurisdictions allow annulment even if the party seeking the annulment knew the
- Person he or she was marrying had not been legally divorced or was denied the right to remarry after divorce.
- Violation of divorce decree or statute barring remarriage: Some statutes prohibit remarriage after divorce or within a certain time period after divorce or remarriage to a particular person. Violation of such statutes or divorce decrees to this effect are grounds for annulment.
- Marriage entered into with intention that it should not be binding; mock marriage; trial marriage:
The majority rule states that a party to the marriage may seek annulment in a court of equity where the marriage results from levity, jest, no intention to bind or enter into relationship, or no intention to assume rights or responsibilities of marriage. Annulment makes the marriage void. An agreement to enter into a trial marriage where either party by agreement has the option to annul the marriage ceremony is performed “in jest.” Where persons agree to marry to accomplish a desired objective (for example, legitimization of a child) the majority of courts will regard the marriage as valid and will not annul on this basis.
- Under age of consent: The jurisdiction to annul marriages by people who are not of legal age to consent at the time of marriage is generally conferred by statute. Some courts hold these statutes applicable even where residents of the state go to another state, have the ceremony performed, and immediately return to their former residence, although the marriage was valid where performed. Other courts hold that if the marriage was permissible under the law of the state where the ceremony was performed, it will not be annulled by courts of the domicile of the parties. Under most statutes, nonage does not itself constitute an absolute right to an annulment. The court may have discretion and the marriage remains valid for all civil purposes until a judicial decree of annulment is issued. Where the marriage is void by statute, the court retains no discretion.
- Proxy marriage: Some states recognize a proxy marriage even absent statutory authority. Other states do not recognize them other than as common-law marriagewhen followed by cohabitation and repute. A husband in the military may annul a proxy marriage if there is no consummation, no cohabitation, or no treatment as husband and wife after the marriage ceremony.
- Blood relationship; incestuous marriages are marriage between:
- parents and grandchildren,
- grandparents and grandchildren,
- brothers and sisters of half as well as whole blood,
- uncles and nieces of half as well as whole blood, aunts and nephews of half as well as
- whole blood, and
- first cousins of half as well as whole blood.
A court may annul an incestuous marriage at request of either party to the marriage even though the applicant may have knowingly entered the marriage arrangement. However, courts of one state cannot, at the suit of either party, annul a marriage which was valid under the laws of another state on the ground that the marriage is contrary to domicile state’s laws regarding blood relationship marriages.
- Mental incapacity: Courts examine whether any incapacity existed at the time of the marriage. If a court finds in the affirmative, the marriage may be annulled as void from the point of the judicial decree of nullity entered. There remains a split of authority as to whether concealment of one’s mental incapacity warrants annulment of the marriage. Where concealment does provide a ground for annulment, the following factors are considered: whether affected spouse had knowledge of the actual condition and its seriousness, an intent to deceive, and absence of ratification by the innocent spouse after having learned the facts.
- Temporary insanity: If temporary or periodic insanity is claimed, the condition at the time of marriage governs whether or not capacity to marry was present. A marriage will not be annulled if entered into during a lucid interval. The degree of mental incapacity necessary to ground an annulment is incapacity sufficient to deprive a party of an understanding of the duties and relationship of marriage. Mere weakness of intellect remains insufficient.
- Intoxication: The complaining party must show intoxication at the marriage ceremony to such a degree as to render that person incapable of knowing the nature of the marriage contract and its consequences.
An action for an annulment must be started by a certain time. The time limit depends on the type of marriage. The shortest time to start an annulment is 4 years after the marriage. If you have questions about the time limit to start an annulment, seek legal assistance in your local area.