Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 3, 2012

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An annulment is a ruling by a court that nullifies a marriage. Unlike a divorce, which is a legal end to a valid marriage, an annulment is a ruling that the marriage never actually existed in the first place. A legal annulment is not available in all cases, and is different from a religious annulment, which would have to be obtained by request of your church instead of by request of the court.

Reasons for an Annulment

There are several common reasons why an annulment may be granted. Examples include the following:

  • The person officiating was not legally allowed to marry the parties.
  • One or both people were not of legal age.
  • One or more people in the marriage was already married to someone else at the time.
  • One or both people were mentally handicapped at the time of marriage.
  • The marriage certificate was not valid because of fraud.
  • The couple is committing incest, meaning they are not legally allowed to wed. Some states do not allow first cousins to marry, for example, and other states only forbid brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, or fathers from marrying.
  • False information was given during the marriage process. For example, if one party lied to gain the consent of the other, and the other would not have agreed to the marriage had he or she known, that may be grounds for annulment.
  • The couple committed adultery.
  • The couple was under the influence of alcohol at the time.
  • One or more of the parties to the marriage killed an existing spouse in order to be free to marry.
  • One party can prove that the other party did not intend to remain faithful.
  • One party abducted the other to compel them to marry.

Each state has different laws about granting annulments, so be sure you consult your state law or an experienced attorney before you take legal action. 

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Filing for an Annulment

If you think you qualify for an annulment in your state, you will need to begin the process by filing for one.  If you are considering filing for annulment, there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Depending on the reason for the annulment, you may have to worry about a statute of limitations.  Certain reasons for annulment are only valid for a number of years after the marriage.  Make sure you check and see if a statute of limitations will affect your annulment before you take legal action.
  • Becuase an annulment legally means the marriage never happened, there are no spousal support obligations associated with the process.  This will also affect child support obligations, child visitation rights, and property division.  Consult with an attorney about the affect an annulment will have on your life before taking action.
  • Filing for an annulment will require you to follow a process outlined in your state’s law.  You will need to be able to show that you qualify for an annulment, and make sure your paperwork is done correctly.

Annulments are something to be taken seriously, so do not take action unless you are fully prepared to do so.  Make sure you understand your state law on annulments, know how to get one, and what affect an annulment will have on your life.  An experienced family law attorney can be critical to your success, so it is a good idea to consult one.