An annulment is an often misunderstood legal concept. It is similar to a divorce in that it ultimately dissolves the marital status of an individual. However, the vital difference is that if one obtains an annulment, the marriage is determined to have never existed. This is known as a “nullity of marriage” and can apply to domestic partnerships as well. Oftentimes people wish to obtain a nullity of marriage, but do not have the grounds to do so. Annulments are not granted lightly and are only done so under very specific circumstances which are outlined below. Only a Judge can grant an annulment; parties cannot simply agree to a nullity of their marriage. It is also important to note that certain religions may annul a marriage, but such an annulment is not the same as a nullity of marriage under California law.
There are two categories of legal grounds for a nullity of marriage.
The first category is when a marriage or domestic partnership is “void” or was never valid. This occurs when a marriage or domestic partnership is either incestuous or bigamous. An incestuous marriage or domestic partnership is one in which the participants are close blood relatives. A bigamous marriage or domestic partnership is one in which one party is already in a marriage or domestic partnership with another individual.
The second category is when a marriage or domestic partnership is “voidable” or declared invalid based on a number of reasons. These reason include the following: age, one party being under the age of 18 when married; unsound mind, when one party is not fit to understand the nature of a marriage or domestic partnership; force, when one party did not consent to the marriage or domestic partnership; physical incapacity, when one party is unable to consummate the marriage and the physical impediment continues to exist; fraud; when either party to the marriage or domestic partnership entered the marriage as a result of fraud. If fraud is alleged, it must include some aspect that is vital to the marriage. California courts have held that the fraud must be related to the procreative aspect of a marriage, for example, where one spouse is unable to have children and lied to the other spouse about his/her ability prior to the marriage. A marriage cannot be voided due to fraud, for example, where a party lied about his/her financial situation prior to the marriage. A final reason for a marriage to be declared void is on the basis of one party being a part of a prior marriage or domestic relationship where he or she did not know whether their spouse was alive or had no contact with their spouse for several years. This is different from bigamy in that bigamy is considered illegal.
A nullity of marriage is far more complicated and difficult to obtain than a dissolution. That is why it is important to consult with an attorney that has experience in representing clients who wish to seek an annulment. At Argyris Mah, LLP, we can determine whether your case is appropriate for an annulment and guide you through the complicated process.