Annulment has a reputation as being an easy out. You might think that you can simply wake up one morning and say, “Oops, sorry, this was a big mistake,” and then get your marriage annulled rather than go through an unpleasant divorce. But nothing could be further from the truth. Getting an annulment can be a complicated process, and few couples qualify.
Annulment is a court order that states that your marriage never happened.
What Qualifies You to Get an Annulment?
In legal terms, your marriage must be either “void” or “voidable” to qualify for an annulment. Most states consider a marriage void if it was illegal in the first place such as if either you or your spouse was still married to someone else, you married someone who was closely related to you or one of you hadn’t yet reached legal adulthood so you couldn’t enter into the marriage without parental or court consent.
Voidable grounds include being incapacitated at the time you entered into the marriage such as if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Being forced or tricked into marrying can be grounds – the first is considered coercion and the second is fraud. Finally, if your spouse suffered from a physical impairment, such as impotence, and you didn’t know about it until after you tied the knot, you could have grounds for annulment.
What’s the Time Limit for Annulment?
There’s no universal magic wand that says you can get an annulment in any state up to four or eight weeks after your marriage if none of the above grounds apply. But if you do have grounds, deadlines and timing can factor in.
For example, if you knew your spouse was impotent before you married, it’s not grounds for annulment. And if your marriage is void because you entered into it at age 15, annulment is generally no longer an option after you reach the age of majority in your state.
Is Annulment Better than Divorce?
It might be far simpler and less expensive to file divorce papers and just be done with it. You can file for a no-fault divorce in any state. You and your spouse can decide between the two of you what you want to do with any property you acquired as well as determine custody issues if you have children. Submit your agreement to the court – and that will pretty much be that. Unless something is grievously wrong with your agreement, a judge will probably sign off on it and grant you a divorce.
Annulment, on the other hand, means going to court, trotting out witnesses and producing evidence that your marriage was void or voidable.
What Happens to Your Property?
Your property rights might also be limited if you seek an annulment rather than a divorce. If your divorce ends up in court because you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, the judge will divide your marital property according to state law, but this isn’t always the case in an annulment proceeding whereby you might have to file a lawsuit in a separate civil court to address property issues.
How to File for Annulment
The finer details of filing for annulment can vary from state to state, but most follow a similar procedure. You must file a petition for annulment with the court. You should include a statement with the petition explaining the facts of your case and why you believe you qualify for an annulment.
File your annulment papers with the court, then serve a copy on your spouse. States have specific rules for doing this.
The court will assign you a date to appear for a hearing. Now you’ll have a chance to orally convince the judge that your marriage should be annulled. If your spouse is opposed, she has a right to argue her side of the story. And if you have to go through all that, you might be better off just asking for a no-fault divorce instead and having the judge divvy up your property.
- Each state is different. There may be additional forms you must fill out for an annulment to be completed.
- If you have joint property, it is best to consult a lawyer first.
- If there are children involved in the marriage, you must obtain a divorce to dissolve the marriage.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.