If you are looking to dissolve your marriage, you may wonder what your options are besides divorce. In some cases, an annulment is an option. So, what is an annulment? An annulment is a legal declaration that invalidates a marriage. This means, it declares that the marriage never happened. There are two different categories for annulments: civil and religious.
A civil annulment terminates your marriage and is granted by a judge. When a judge grants a request for an annulment, it’s as if the marriage never happened.
Either spouse may seek an annulment by filing a petition (legal request) with the court that states the grounds (reasons) for an annulment. Although each state has its own annulment requirements, the most common grounds for annulment are:
- Underage marriage. Either spouse can seek an annulment if one or both spouses were under the legal age of consent (generally 18) at the time of the marriage. In certain states, like Texas, when a person who is 16 or older but under 18 marries without a parent’s consent, the marriage could be void. However, once the underage spouse turns 18, both spouses waive their annulment claim if they continue to live together.
- Bigamy. You can’t be legally married to two people at the same time. If your spouse was married to someone else when you held your nuptials, you will qualify for an annulment on bigamy grounds.
- Mental Incompetence. If you or your spouse was too impaired by alcohol or drugs at the time of your marriage to provide consent, you can seek an annulment. Likewise, a spouse who does not have the mental capacity to understand the marriage ceremony or provide consent, cannot be legally married.
- Failure to Consummate Marriage. A court may grant an annulment if one spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse and didn’t tell the other spouse before marriage.
- Fraud or Misrepresentation. Fraud is a basis for an annulment. A spouse who hides or misrepresents an essential fact of the marriage, such as having children or significant financial debts, has committed fraud. However, spouses waive their right to claim marriage fraud if the innocent spouse found out about the fraud but didn’t immediately separate from the guilty spouse.
Some annulment laws have time limits on when you can file. Most of these time limits don’t depend on how long you’ve been married. Rather, the deadlines to file depend on the grounds for the annulment. For example, in Colorado, if you want to annul your marriage on fraud grounds, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married. Instead, what matters is when you found out about the fraud: You must file for annulment within six months of discovering the fraud. But if you want to annul your marriage for reasons of bigamy, you can do so at any time before your death (and your estate might even be able to annul your marriage after your death).
Because each state’s laws are different, you’ll want to check your state laws to see if any time limits apply to your situation. Even if you’ve missed a deadline to annul your marriage, you can still get a divorce.
A religious annulment is issued by a church or a religious tribunal, rather than a court. Religious annulments do not terminate a legal marriage. Specifically, the issuance of a religious annulment by a church doesn’t guarantee that a judge will grant a civil annulment in your case. Likewise, a church might not recognize a civil annulment obtained in a court of law.
What Are the Differences Between Annulment and Divorce?
Divorce is a legal dissolution of marriage. Unlike an annulment, a divorce does not invalidate your marriage, it just ends it. Each state has its own rules governing divorce. All states allow some form of no-fault divorce, meaning either spouse can file for a divorce without having to prove who caused the marriage’s breakdown. Some states allow spouses to file fault-based divorces on grounds like adultery, cruelty, or desertion.
Property Division: In a divorce, because the court recognizes your marriage as legal, a judge will need to divide marital property and debts. A judge will not divide property in an annulment because you were not legally married—so there is no marital property or marital debt to divide.
Spousal Support (Alimony): Because an annulment erases or invalidates a marriage, it also erases a spouse’s right to seek spousal support (alimony). When you file for an annulment, you waive your right to seek alimony or spousal support. If you feel like spousal support is necessary in your case, you should seek a divorce rather than an annulment.
To be able to file for an annulment in Texas, either one of the spouses must live in Texas or the spouses must have originally been married in Texas. Working with an experienced family law attorney can help you to determine if you qualify for an annulment and navigate to process of divorce.
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