How to Get an Annulment

For those who have only been married for a short time, the question of whether an annulment is available versus a divorce is a common question. When things sour so quickly, there is often a desire not to share what would otherwise be marital assets or even acknowledge the marriage was real. But, is it available in your case and how is it different than a divorce?

In many ways, annulments are no different than divorces. Like a divorce, an annulment is a court order after a proceeding that essentially dissolves a marriage. But, unlike a divorce, an annulment has the legal effect of declaring that the marriage never existed in the first place. For that reason, some would rather have their marriage annulled, than to live with the stigma that they associate with divorce, or because of religious reasons (for example, some religions do not allow a person to remarry that has had a prior divorce). In some jurisdictions, the division of property after an annulment is different, as well.

An annulment is somewhat more difficult to obtain, from a procedural standpoint, than a divorce. One must establish a number of legal elements in order to obtain an annulment. For example, to get an annulment, one must show at least one of the following situations:

1. Fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment of fact. This could relate to an intentional or negligent misrepresentation about one spouse's ability to reproduce, his or her age, or the status of the spouse as previously married and not yet divorced (i.e., committing bigamy). This could also mean concealing something significant, like drug addiction, a felony conviction or jail time, involvement in a violent gang, ongoing criminal activity, a sexually transmitted disease, or some other health issue.

2. Inability or refusal to consummate the marriage. In essence, if one spouse refuses to ever have sex with the other, this is a basis for annulment. Note, spouses may still say no, and it is possible for one spouse to rape another. This element only applies if the spouses have never had sexual intercourse, not simply when they hit a dry spell in their relationship.

3. Misunderstanding. One of the most common reasons for an annulment is a misunderstanding that one spouse wants to have children while the other does not.

This is not an exhaustive list, so if you can show one or more of the above reasons, or find others, you may be able to get a civil annulment of your marriage.

However, generally speaking, you will have a much better chance of having your marriage annulled if you have only been married for a very short time. Indeed, most marriages are only eligible for annulments if they have lasted just a few weeks or months. In these situations, it is easy to divide assets and property, as they have not usually intermingled as thoroughly as they will during a typical marriage of a number of years. Indeed, for many states an annulment resets the clock on the parties' assets to the point before the marriage, and any joint property (like wedding gifts) are divided in the normal manner as in a standard divorce. However, states do typically have laws and rules in place that govern annulments of long term marriages, as well, that will provide guidance for dividing property after an annulment as well as determining child custody, visitation rights and support obligations of the parents. Note that children whose parents have had their marriage annulled are not considered illegitimate by the law, so an annulment is not a vehicle for avoiding parental support obligations.

If you have questions about whether your marriage can be annulled, you should contact a local family law attorney who can guide you through the process of obtaining the annulment. It is possible to obtain an annulment on your own without an attorney, but given the short time frame involved and the unusual legal requirements, it would probably be wiser to obtain the assistance of legal counsel for this procedure.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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