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The Divorce Encyclopedia

Term Definition Annulment - a legal action or lawsuit which may result in treating the marriage as if it never took place.
Application in Divorce In civil courts (as opposed to ecclesiastical courts), marriages be annulled in one of two ways. One, if a marriage was never legally consummated, for instance when one party was already married, the union is said to be void, or a "nullity," i.e., it never existed. Or, two, a marriage may be found a voidable marriage when it is valid until or unless it is annulled. In the first case, the marriage never happened; in the second, the marriage happened but is in some way flawed so that it may be voided. The first is said to be void ab initio ("from inception"); the second is said to be voidable nunc pro tunc ("from now for then").

Grounds for annulment include bigamy. Grounds for annulling a voidable marriage include serious fraud or a party’s legal incompetence at the time of the marriage.

In general, courts do not grant annulments based on one spouse’s misrepresentation of his or her marital history. These misrepresentations generally involve the number of times a party had previously been married and the circumstances under which previous marriages ended. In many jurisdictions, these misrepresentations must rise to the level that they interfere with what are termed the "essentials of marriage."

When courts do annul marriages on the basis of fraud, they do it if the misrepresentations "directly contradict the defrauded party’s religious belief"; for example, in the case of a subsequent marriage involving an observant Catholic when the new spouse claims that he or she is a widow or a widower when in fact he or she is divorced.

New York is one state that allows for annulments based on a concealment of a spouse’s prior marital status.

The children of annulled marriages are legitimate.

Most annulments are granted by religious tribunes.

See also Ab Initio; Nunc Pro Tunc

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