Grounds for Annulments
Key Points
  • Each state has its own laws regarding annulments.
  • The grounds for annulment vary by state and the length of the marriage may play a role depending on the ground selected to file.
  • Many grounds for annulments involve fraud.
  • Any children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate.

Annulment laws vary from state to state. The rules for statutes of limitation are especially complicated because they depend not only on state law, but also on the reason a party asks the court for an annulment. Depending on the circumstances, the appellant may have a very limited period of time to use this option or may have a lifetime, but only if the other spouse does not die. For example, the timeline for acting on voidable marriages in Colorado is only six months if a partner tricked a spouse into the marriage, but a year if the spouse is impotent. California permits four years in these circumstances, but a person has only two years in Ohio to file for annulment of a voidable marriage. If one spouse was not of sound mind at the time of the marriage, some states permit annulments until one spouse dies.

In most jurisdictions, an annulment requires that at least one of the following reasons exists:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation: One spouse concealed or lied about something that was essential to the marriage, like the ability to have children. Misrepresentation of things like the ability to produce children, not being married to anyone else, marrying just to gain citizenship, and being old enough to consent to marriage all are grounds for an annulment. Immigration is another context that can sometimes give rise to annulment request. A spouse who believes the marriage took place only for immigration purposes may seek an annulment based on fraud, in an effort to get the alien spouse deported.
  • Concealment: If one of the spouses hid a major fact, the other may have grounds for an annulment. This could include a substance abuse problem, a felony conviction, children, impotency, or sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Misunderstanding: Usually, a misunderstanding that constitutes an annulment is based on the desire to have children. This misunderstanding must be substantial to the marriage to constitute grounds for an annulment.
  • Impotency: If one of the spouses is incurably impotent, the other spouse has grounds for an annulment, as long as that spouse was not aware of the impotency before the marriage.
  • Incest: Two people who are too close in familial relation to marry have grounds for an annulment. This could include whole or half siblings, first cousins, parents, grandchildren, aunts, and uncles, for example.
  • Bigamy: One of the spouses was still legally married to someone else at the time of the alleged marriage. Unsuspecting victims of a bigamist are also eligible for an annulment.
  • Underage: One of the spouses is under the age of consent. Most states require that both spouses be at least 18 years old to marry. When minors marry under the age of consent and without parental or court permission, these unions fall into a category all their own in some states. Statutes of limitation often depend on the age of the parties at the time they request an annulment. Although Colorado has a two-year limit for annulment of such a marriage, other states draw the line after the minors reach the age of majority. For example, in California and Ohio, they have two years after reaching the age of 18, although their parents can have their marriage annulled before they turn 18.
  • Unsound mind: One or both of the spouses was too impaired by alcohol or drugs at the time of the wedding (or didnt have the mental capacity for some other reason) to understand what was happening and give consent to the marriage.
  • Force: One of the parties was forced into getting married.
  • Lack of consent: Both parties must have the mental capacity to consent and must consent voluntarily to the marriage. If a party was forced or threatened into the marriage, the marriage can be annulled. One lacks mental capacity to consent to the marriage if they were insane or intoxicated at the time of the marriage.

Duress, bigamy, and fraud are the most common grounds for an annulment; the most common ground for annulment ab initio is bigamy, whereas the most common grounds for an annulment nun pro tunc are serious fraud or a partys legal incompetence at the time of the marriage.

Many annulments take place after marriages of a very short duration - a few weeks or months - so there are usually no assets or debts to divide, or children for whom custody, visitation, and child support are a concern. When a long-term marriage is annulled, however, most states have provisions for dividing property and debts, as well as determining custody, visitation, child support, and alimony. Any children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate.

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