Annulments in Maryland
In Maryland an annulment erases a marital union. Divorce dissolves a marriage; an annulment of marriage makes it so that the marriage never occurred. A void marriage is one that is illegal at the time it takes place and can never be made valid; a voidable marriage is valid when it takes place but can later be declared invalid.
Partners who annul a marriage cannot be said to be divorced. When an annulment is granted, it means there was never a marriage at all. The spouses can say that they were never married to one another.
The full text of the law on annulment in Maryland is in the Maryland Family Code, Title 2.
Here are the typical grounds for annulment of marriage in Maryland:
- Lack of Consent: one spouse coerced the other to get married. Both spouses must freely consent to the marriage for it to be valid. Marriages without consent are voidable.
Maryland recognizes two grounds involving consent:
- First, a person with a mental disability at the time of the marriage, whether temporary or permanent, cannot validly consent. Temporary disability includes intoxication. If one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the marriage is voidable.
- Second, a marriage entered into under duress is voidable. Duress means that a spouse was forced into the marriage because of threats.
- Fraud: When a spouse consents to marriage but later learns the other spouse was deceptive, the marriage is voidable on grounds of fraud. For example, a man who does not disclose he was previously convicted of a crime or was married in the past - even if divorced - may be fraudulently obtaining a woman's consent.
- Impotence: Impotence is the inability to have sexual intercourse. In Maryland, if one spouse cannot satisfy the other spouse's physical needs, the victim spouse can file for an annulment. A marriage in which one spouse is impotent is considered voidable. The court grants an annulment only if the petitioner can confirm the diagnosis from a physician, and the spouse establishes she was not aware of her spouse's impotence when the marriage happened.
- Consanguinity: the spouses are more closely related than first cousins.
Maryland forbids any marriage involving consanguinity. This means that people who are related by blood cannot get married. Because such marriages are against the law, they are void and considered invalid the moment they occur. Although the marriage is never considered legal, it must formally be annulled by a court to be terminated.
- Bigamy: one spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of the marriage. A person can only be married to one person at a time. In Maryland, any subsequent marriage prior to the termination of a first marriage is considered void. As with marriages of consanguinity, a bigamous marriage is not legal, but requires formal termination by the court.
- Underage Spouse: one spouse is under 18, unless the underage spouse is 16 or 17 and had parental consent or the underage spouse is 15 and pregnant and had parental consent. Age 18 is the age of majority in Maryland. Because marriage is a contract, a spouse must be at least 18 years old to consent. If one or both spouses is between the ages of 15 and 17, a parent must consent to the marriage or the wife must have given birth to a child. If a spouse is 15 to 17 years old and neither of these conditions occurred, the marriage is void and can be annulled. A child under the age of 15 cannot be married at all.
Addition considerations may enter into an annulment. They include:
- In a case of duress, the coercion must have existed at the time of the actual ceremony. Maryland courts have annulled marriage when there was a “shotgun wedding,” that is, where a woman’s family threatened the man if he did not marry their pregnant daughter.
- In the case of fraud, the misrepresentation must be related to the essential elements of the marriage. Lying about his or her financial situation, habits, temper or personality is not enough for an annulment; for fraud to be a basis to annul a marriage, it must be something that affects the health or well being of the spouses or the offspring of the marriage. Hiding a previous marriage and divorce is not enough to annul a marriage; hiding prior insanity is enough to annul a marriage. A wife pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage would also be sufficient for an annulment.
- If a marriage happened because one spouse coerced or defrauded the other spouse, and the innocent spouse continues to cohabit after discovering the fraud, the fraud ground has been waived and the marriage can no longer be annulled.
In Maryland, when a marriage is annulled, the judge can still decide issues like custody, visitation, child support, alimony and attorney’s fees. The court can also divide any property the spouses have, including bank accounts, pensions and retirement accounts. In Maryland, children of an annulled marriage are legitimate unless it can be clearly proven that the husband did not father the children. When a child is declared legitimate, both parents have the duty to financially support the child.
The filing spouse is the plaintiff in the complaint; the other spouse is the defendant. In Maryland, a complaint for annulment is filed in the circuit court for the county where the spouses live, and one spouse needs to have lived in Maryland for at least a year. The complaint states the date of the marriage, as well as the grounds for an annulment, and identifies any children born of the marriage.
After filing in the district court, the plaintiff serves the defendant with a copy of the complaint. Although a little more difficult, it is possible to serve a party even if he or she cannot be found or lives out of state.
At a hearing, the judge decides if the plaintiff has proven that the marriage should be annulled. If so, the judge will sign an order granting an annulment. The judge may also grant the annulment if the defendant simply agrees with it.