There is a common misconception that if you regret getting married, you have a certain amount of time to get a “do-over” or to annul your marriage. However, this is not the case. While many states will not grant an annulment after a certain amount of time has passed, there is not an automatic period when a marriage can be ended simply because the couple decides to end the marriage after a short period of time. The California courts system explains that an annulment is when a court declares a marriage is legally invalid. Below, we discuss the difference between annulment vs. divorce, the legal effect of an annulment, and how to get a marriage annulled.

Annulment vs. Divorce

A divorce asks a family court to end a legal marriage. For whatever reason, at least one of the spouses no longer wants to be married to the other spouse. An annulment concludes that the marriage was never valid. The law pretends the marriage never occurred.

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Reasons For Annulment

The potential reasons for annulment vary by state. There are generally two types of marriages that can be annulled: voided marriages and voidable marriages. Voided marriages are those that are automatically invalid, such as those that involve:

  • Incest – States prohibit marriages from couples who are close blood relatives, such as siblings or a father and daughter. First cousins are banned from getting married in many, but not all, states. 
  • Bigamy – If a person is married to one person, they cannot legally get married to another person when the marriage is still legally in effect.

A voidable marriage is one in which the spouse who was been wronged can ask for the marriage to be declared invalid, such as due to:

  • Lack of age – One of the spouses was under the legal age of marriage at the time the marriage occurred.
  • Fraud – A spouse who was tricked into marriage or given misinformation or not given important information may be able to request an annulment based on fraud. The fraud must involve a major issue that directly affected why the defrauded party decided to get married
  • Coercion – This ground applies when one of the spouses was forced into getting married.
  • Lack of capacity – Since entering into a marriage is a legal contract, anything that renders a person unable to make a sound decision, such as mental disability, drugs, or alcohol, may affect the ability to understand the legal obligations of marriage.
  • Physical incapacity – Some states allow a spouse to file for an annulment if one of the spouses was physically incapable of consummating the relationship and the incapacity is incurable. 
  • Concealment of important issues – Some states allow a spouse to file an annulment because the other spouse concealed important issues that may have affected their decision to marry, such as impotence, the inability to have children, prior marital history, drug abuse, or a criminal history.

It is important to note that an annulment is a legal determination. Some spouses may be part of religious communities that provide an annulment based on grounds of adultery, abuse, or other reasons for religious purposes. That process is different and does not have the same legal effect as a decree of annulment.

How Does an Annulment Work?

If a court grants an annulment, the legal effect is to treat the marriage like it never existed. Therefore, a person who gets their marriage annulled may not have the same legal rights and obligations as a person who gets divorced.

For example, in a divorce, a couple generally splits up the property that they accumulated during the marriage. There are two general approaches to this: the court uses principles of equitable distribution to determine who should receive which property or the state applies community property laws that assumes that all property acquired during the marriage belongs 50/50 to each spouse.

In an annulment, you are stating that the marriage was not valid and that you and your spouse should not have the same legal property rights as spouses. You are asking the court to return you to the positions you were in before the marriage.

However, there may be some exceptions to the legal effect of an annulment. For example, if a child was born during a marriage that was later annulled, the annulment may not affect the legitimacy of the child. However, the presumption that children born during the marriage are products of the marriage may not exist in all jurisdictions, so additional steps may need to be taken to confirm a child’s biological identity. Child custody, visitation, and child support matters can be established during the annulment proceedings.

How To File An Annulment

Even if a marriage is not legally valid, the person wanting to get out of the marriage may still want to go through the legal process of having the marriage annulled. In other situations, a spouse has to get an annulment in order to have the court legally invalidate it.

How to get an annulment varies in each state. However, a petition is generally necessary. The spouse wanting the marriage to be annulled will submit a written petition that establishes the circumstances surrounding their marriage and the legal grounds for the annulment.

The steps to get an annulment usually include:

  • Filing a petition that requests the annulment
  • Serving your spouse with the petition and a summons
  • Giving your spouse the opportunity to file their answer
  • Proving your claim
  • Participating in the discovery process and attending court hearings, if necessary
  • Obtaining a decree from the court of the annulment

How Long Can You Get An Annulment After The Marriage

Many people might wonder, “How long after marriage can you get an annulment?” However, the timeline varies, based on the reason for annulment. While there is not a ticking timeline (such as 30 days from your marriage), there may be a timeline based on the circumstances.

So, how long do you have to annul a marriage? That depends on the reason for the annulment. For example, if you are annulling the marriage due to the lack of age, you may only have until you (or your underage child) reach the age of 18 to file the annulment. In other cases, how long after marriage can you get an annulment depends on when you found out about the justification for annulment. For example, you may have up to four years after discovering your spouse’s fraud to file for an annulment. If you fail to take prompt action and this deadline passes, you may forfeit your right to an annulment. 

Can You Get An Annulment Without The Other Person?

You do not need to get the other person’s permission to get an annulment. However, you will need to give them legal notice of your petition to annul the marriage and the opportunity to contest your version of events.

How Much Does An Annulment Cost?

You might think that an annulment might be easier and cheaper than a divorce, but this is not always the case. Most states have no-fault divorce provisions that allow a spouse to seek divorce without having to prove that the other spouse was at fault. With an annulment, you will have to prove the grounds that apply to your case that give you a right to annulment. Therefore, obtaining an annulment may be the same cost or even more than getting a divorce.

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