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All About Annulments
In our modern world, an annulment tends to be more a creature of religion than of law. Annulments are rarely granted and when they are, very specific circumstances must exist. Often people believe that they may annul a marriage simply because it was of a very short duration. That is not the case. To annul a marriage, a person must demonstrate that the marriage is void because it is prohibited by the laws of the State or is voidable because the intent to enter into a civil contract was not present at the time that the parties married.
What is an Annulment?
Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman. As a result, the contract is legally binding so long as the requisite elements of the contract were present when the parties married. If the elements of the contract were not present, the marriage may be annulled. That means, the marriage is treated as if it never existed. For all purposes, it is considered null and void.
What is the effect of an Annulment?
In some states, an annulment may result in the harsh result of extinguishing interests in property acquired during the purported marriage. In such states, each party would be entitled to the property in their own name. This is not true under Minnesota law.
In fact, Minnesota recognizes the concept of a "putative spouse." Any person who has cohabited with another under a good faith belief that the person was legally married acquires the same rights conferred by the divorce statute including property rights and the right to spousal maintenance. These rights terminate when a person discovers that they may not be legally married. It is important to remember that in the case of Bigamy (more than one spouse), the second putative spouse’s rights do not supercede the rights acquired of the legal spouse (the first spouse). However, the Court may apportion property, maintenance, and support rights among the claimants as appropriate "in the circumstances and in the interests of justice."
What is the basis for an Annulment?
An annulment may be granted when a marriage is automatically void under the law for public policy reasons or voidable by one party when certain requisite elements of the marriage contract were not present at the time of the marriage.
A marriage is automatically void and is automatically annulled when it is prohibited by law. Under Minnesota’s statutes a lawful marriage may be contracted when the following requisites are met:
Any marriage occurring after April 26, 1941, without these elements is considered null and void. Additionally, Minnesota Statutes specifically prohibits a nullifies the following marriage without any decree of dissolution or other legal proceedings :
A voidable marriage is one where an annulment is not automatic and must be sought by one of the parties. Generally, an annulment may be sought by one of the parties to a marriage if the intent to enter into the civil contract of marriage was not present at the time of the marriage, either due to mental illness, intoxication, duress or fraud. Minnesota Statutes set out the following circumstances under which a marriage may be annulled by Petition:
A marriage by an underage party may become legally binding and incapable of annulment if the cohabitation of the parties as husband and wife continues voluntarily after the person reached the age of consent. Similarly, a marriage involving an insane person may not be annulled if the person with the mental disability is restored to capacity and the parties continued to freely cohabitate as husband and wife.
Who may annul a marriage and when may an Action for Annulment be Brought?
Under no circumstances may an annulment be granted after the death of either party to the marriage. Additionally, there are some timelines that must be followed in order to seek an annulment. In other words, even if the grounds exist to grant an annulment, the annulment may be refused if the party seeking it does not act quickly.
Minnesota Statutes sets out who may annul and the timelines for annulment as follows:
In What Types of Cases have Annulments been Granted?
There have been very few cases that expand or define under what circumstances an annulment may be granted for a mental disability, duress, force or fraud. However, cases in other jurisdiction have do provide some guidance.
One spouse must have been a Minnesota resident for at least 180 days prior to filing for divorce.
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