In the eyes of most Californians, divorce is the only way of terminating a marriage. For some couples, however, a second method exists for ending a marriage — an annulment. Annulment is very different from a divorce because an annulled marriage is declared to be a nullity (as if it never happened) and the grounds for an annulment are carefully delineated by statute. Also, the legal consequences of an annulment may be very different from a divorce.
Some marriages are never legally valid: if the parties are close blood relative, such as first cousins, or if one or both of the spouses is already married to another person. In other cases, the annulment is obtained by court order. For example, if one or both spouses were under 18 years of age when their marriage was solemnized, the court may deem the marriage annulled. Other reasons for a court ordered annulment include the existence of a prior marriage or domestic partnership or if one of the spouses was mentally unable to understand the nature of the marriage. Fraud, such as marrying only to obtain a green card can also lead to a court ordered annulment. Finally, a court may order a marriage annulled if the consent to marriage was obtained by force or if there was an inability to consummate the marriage.
The parties cannot agree to an annulment in the same way they can consent to a divorce. At least one of the grounds listed above must be proved to the satisfaction of the court, regardless of the wishes of the parties desiring the annulment. Issues concerning property division and child custody are handled differently in an annulment. Neither spouse is deemed to have had community property rights in the couple’s assets, and the judge must establish paternity of the couple’s children.
Anyone with questions about annulling a marriage may wish to consult a family lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can provide helpful advice about the legal effects of an annulment compared to a divorce and the effect of an annulment on the person’s individual situation.
Source: California Courts, “ Annulment,” accessed on May 22, 2017