What are the grounds for an annulment?

Q:

What are the grounds for an annulment?

A:

An annulment is the legal process through which a marriage can be declared null and void. Unlike divorce, which terminates a legally valid marriage, an annulment can end a marriage that was never legal (a void marriage), or one that should not have taken place due to certain unknown facts at the time of the marriage (a voidable marriage). It’s important to note, however, that an annulment can only be granted for very specific reasons.

Prior to requesting an annulment, the filing party must provide grounds for the action. Unlike divorce actions, which allow couples to file on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” there are no such equivalent or comparable grounds for an annulment. As mentioned above, the legal reasons for an annulment fall into two legal categories: void and voidable.

1. Void Marriages

The first option for a legal annulment is to prove that your marriage is void, which means that you must provide evidence that your marriage was never a legal marriage. Examples of void marriages include the following:

  • Consanguinity
    A marriage is considered void if the parties are too closely related to legally marry. For example, if you marry your parent, your child, your sibling, your aunt or uncle, or your first cousin (in some states), your marriage is not considered valid.
  • One of the parties is already married
    A marriage may also be void if one of the parties is already married when they marry a second time. If you find that your spouse is still married to another person, you may legally request an annulment.

2. Voidable Marriages

Unlike a void marriage, which is against the law or never considered a legal action, a voidable marriage is one that one or both spouses would have not agreed to if certain facts had been known at the time of the marriage:

  • Either spouse was mentally or emotionally ill at the time of the marriage
    States may allow for an annulment if either party entering into the marital contract is considered mentally ill or has a serious medical condition. Under this notion, mental incapacity such as a mental illness—or a medical condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, congenital disability and brain injury—may render the party unable to understand and agree to a marital contract.

    To be granted an annulment for mental illness, the court may require evidence of the spouse’s incapacity through expert testimony provided by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Other requirements may also exist. For example, the courts may require that the spouse was ill at the time of the marriage, the other spouse did not know that they were ill, and the action was brought as soon as the condition was realized.
  • Fraud
    A marriage may be voidable if one party misrepresented information about themselves. For example, if someone enticed you to marry them only to obtain a green card without your knowledge, or they convinced you that you were the biological father of their child, this may be considered fraud.
  • Marriage under duress
    A marriage may be voidable if one of the parties can prove that they were coerced into the marriage through a serious threat of violence or physical harm. Note that courts will generally not grant an annulment on these grounds if they believe that the filing spouse could have escaped or overcome the duress, or if they continue to live with the spouse after the force no longer exists.
  • Mental incapacity due to alcohol or drugs
    A valid marriage requires both parties to understand that they are entering into a legal marital contract. A marriage may be voidable if you can prove that you were too intoxicated at the time of the union to understand the consequences of your actions.
  • Impotency
    An annulment may be granted if you can prove that your spouse was permanently and incurably impotent at the time of the marriage, thus making it voidable. The court, however, may not annul the marriage if the filing spouse knew this fact prior to the marriage and decided to marry anyway, or if they continued to live with the spouse for a specific period of time after discovering this fact.
  • The marriage occurred too soon after the issuance of the marriage license
    In some states, you are required to wait a minimum number of hours after the marriage license is issued to get married. For example, in the State of Texas, you must wait 72 hours. If you get married without waiting the proper amount of time, the marriage may be annulled.
  • One of the parties was a minor
    A marriage may be considered voidable if one of the parties was too young and was not legally able to consent to the marriage. For example, minors must have parental consent or court permission to marry. If parental or court consent is not given, the parents or guardian may have the legal right to request that the marriage be annulled. Consider, however, that this action may only be allowed until the minor reaches a certain age.
  • Incurable mental illness for five years or more
    Some states may authorize an annulment if one spouse becomes mentally ill with an incurable illness after the marriage and the condition lasts for five years or more.

Note: These are general reasons for which an annulment may be void or voidable. You will need to review your own state’s laws concerning annulment and discuss your case with a lawyer to determine whether you can legally file for annulment. In some states, certain grounds are considered valid only if the annulment is sought within a specific number of days from the date of marriage.

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