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Delaware Annulments
Annulments in Delaware

In Delaware, as in most jurisdictions, annulments are uncommon; however, a number of grounds exist to petition a Delaware court to enter a decree to annul a marriage.

Unlike many jurisdictions, Delaware annulment law permits the family court to divide the couple's property and debt equitably. Additionally, Delaware law explicitly states that "children born of an annulled marriage are legitimate," so the Delaware family courts decide custody, visitation, and child support just as they would for a divorcing couple.

The law on annulments is described in the Delaware Code, Title 13 (Domestic Relations), Chapter 15 (Divorce and Annulment).


The petitioner must prove that one of the spouses:

  • lacked the capacity to consent because he or she was suffering from a serious mental problem or under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs;
  • lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage and hid this fact from the other spouse;
  • was underage and didn't get the consent of a parent, guardian, or Delaware judge;
  • used fraudulent acts or misrepresentations to trick the other spouse into marriage;
  • only entered into the marriage because they were under duress, which means extreme coercion or force, or
  • agreed to marry only as a joke or a dare.

Not all misrepresentations will qualify. The fraud or misrepresentation must go to the heart, or the "essence," of the marital relationship. For example, if Bill lies about having millions of dollars in an offshore bank account, that lie does not cut to the very essence of what it means to be married and wouldn't be a grounds for annulment. However, if Susan marries Bill so that she will not be deported, and hides that fact from him that lie goes directly to the heart of the marital relationship and could be the basis of an annulment.

Like other jurisdictions, Delaware prohibits some marriages. Prohibited marriages include bigamous marriages (where a spouse is legally married to more than one person), polygamous marriages (where a spouse maintains informal "marital" relationships with multiple spouses), and incestuous marriages (involving blood relatives or close family members).

In Delaware there are legal deadlines, known as "statutes of limitations," that govern filing for an annulment. The deadlines apply when the petitioner wants an annulment:

  • because of mental incapacity or intoxication - 90 days after learning about the incapacity or intoxication;
  • because the spouse is physically incapable of engaging in sexual relations - no later than one year after learning about the medical condition;
  • because he or she was underage at the time of the marriage - no later than one year after the date of the marriage (and the underage party and the party’s parent or guardian must bring the action);
  • because the other spouse perpetrated a fraud or misrepresentation - within 90 days after learning about the fraud or misrepresentation;
  • because he or she entered into a marriage under duress - within 90 days of learning about the duress.
  • because he or she married as a joke or a dare - within 90 days of learning about the jest or dare.

Annulments of a bigamous, polygamous, or incestuous marriage may be filed at any time before the death of the other party.


A person must live in Delaware for six months to file for annulment. To initiate an annulment, official court papers are available, and instructions come with the papers. The petition is filed in the family court of the county where either spouse lives.

Like a divorce, the annulment begins when the petitioner files and serves a petition for annulment. If the respondent agrees or fails to file an answer within 20 days, the annulment is uncontested, and the person filing the petition can choose what type of divorce proceeding he or she would like to have, which typically takes less time. If the respondent files an answer challenging the allegations in the petition, then the annulment is contested. If that is the case, then the matter will automatically be scheduled for a hearing.

The petitioner may request that the court decide the annulment based “solely on the papers,” filed by both sides, without the parties appearing in court for a hearing, or the petitioner may choose to have the court decide on the annulment after holding a hearing which the petitioner must attend and the respondent may attend.

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