California law does allow for an annulment of a marriage in certain circumstances. The big difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce dissolves a marriage while an annulment voids a marriage. That is, an annulment restores the parties to the status of single persons and it is as if the marriage never took place or existed. An annulment attorney cautions that there are very specific grounds and time limits that must be met to succeed in annulling a marriage.
Legal Grounds for an Annulment
It is not enough that the parties discover that they are not compatible or married the wrong person after the date of marriage. California law requires a specific legal reason for a successful annulment proceeding.
- The parties are related by blood. Any blood relation to a spouse to a measurable degree will nullify a marriage in California.
- One spouse was committing bigamy. This means that at the time of the marriage, the bigamous spouse was already married to someone else. Exceptions would be if the first spouse was missing or could not be located for a period of five years or more or was otherwise presumed dead. The law allows that, in these instances, a request for an annulment can be filed at any time during the life of the other spouse who was not still married.
- At the time of the marriage, one spouse was under 18 years of age. This refers to a situation where the proper parental and court consent was not obtained before the marriage and one of both of the spouses was not of legal age on the date of the marriage ceremony. In situations where the minor misrepresented their age at the time of the marriage ceremony, courts tend to be forgiving in this area and tend to grant the minor an annulment provided that an annulment request is brought within the statutory period of time.
- A spouse obtained the other spouse’s consent to the marriage through fraud. The fraud must be substantive and go to the “heart or the essence” of the marriage. For example, the spouse who deceives the other spouse into marrying him or her in order to stay in the United States. The aggrieved spouse must bring an action to void or nullify a marriage within four years of the discovery of the fraud.
- One spouse has an “incurable physical incapacity.” This usually refers to impotency, preventing the couple from engaging in marital relations. Exceptions would apply in situations such as a spouse was disabled before the marriage and that condition was known to the potential spouse before the marital nuptials took place. A request for annulment on these grounds must be brought within four years of the date of the marriage.
- One or both of the spouses were of unsound mind. This means that one or both of the spouses did not have the mental capacity to understand the nature of the marital proceedings at the time of the marriage ceremony. Examples would be when a spouse is mentally ill or otherwise intoxicated at the time of the marriage. Since the key facts in such a case pertain to the circumstances at the time of the marriage, expert testimony, witnesses and other reliable evidence are essential to prove a voidable marriage.
- One spouse forced the other spouse to get married. This refers to a situation where one spouse uses violence, coercion or threats of violence towards the other spouse to induce or force that spouse to marry them. Exceptions may apply if the aggrieved spouse was cohabitating with the other spouse freely years before the marriage. These cases are fact driven and there are other circumstances which could constitute “force” as defined by the Family Code. For example, instances of fraud, extortion, blackmail, threats against family or one’s vocation and livelihood could constitute sufficient facts to void or annul a marriage.
The spouse requesting the annulment has the burden of proof to show that at the time of the marriage, one or more of these facts and conditions existed. If the requesting spouse can convince a judge of such, then their request for an annulment will be successful.
The annulment process is similar to a divorce process. An annulment attorney would file a petition for an annulment and the aggrieved spouse requests an annulment based on the appropriate legal grounds. These are some of the issues that arise during an annulment proceeding.
- If the non-aggrieved spouse agrees to the requesting spouse’s terms, it is easier to convince a judge to annul a marriage. If the non-aggrieved spouse objects, for reasons such as property division and spousal support, the issues can become more complicated. In those instances, the aggrieved spouse can expect a hearing or trial on the issue as to whether there is a solid legal basis to annul the marriage.
- Don’t wait too long to file your request for an annulment. If the statute of limitations runs, then you waive any rights you had to annul your marriage. You cannot seek an annulment once the time limit passes; rather, you would have to seek a divorce.
- If there are children of the marital union, then both parties will still have a duty to support the minor children and a custody and visitation agreement will have to be worked out, either privately or by a judge. If the marriage is successfully annulled, then one of the parties would be well advised to file a paternity action to establish the parties’ legal rights in regards to the minor children.