I have heard those words more times than I can count. An annulment sounds like a magical antidote to your divorce woes. Instead of slogging through a long, complicated divorce, you can ask the court or your priest to just wave a magic wand and undo your marriage and dissolve it as if it never happened.
Legal vs. Religious Annulment
Not so fast. Most people have a very simplified concept of what an annulment is. First of all, there are legal annulments and there are religious annulments. If you get a divorce, you can still get a religious annulment (called a ‘get’ in the Jewish religion), but you have to follow the requirements set by your particular religion. A religious annulment only undoes your marriage in the eyes of your church, not the government. A legal annulment does make your marriage legally vanish, but it is difficult to qualify for one. If you obtain a legal annulment, you still need a religious one to erase your marriage in the eyes of your religion.
Reasons for Annulment
The laws vary by state, but generally, annulments are only available when:
- One of you was underage at the time of marriage
- One of you misrepresented yourself to the other in a significant way (fraud is generally what this means)
- One of you was mentally ill at the time of marriage
- One of you was unwilling or unable to consummate the marriage
- You are related to each other in a way that bars marriage in your state (cousins, for example)
- One of you was already married to someone else at the time of marriage
- One of you withheld or concealed important facts about something such as a disease, children, infertility, etc
Those are the ONLY reasons an annulment can be granted – not because you changed your mind, your spouse abused you, your spouse watches porn all night, or he/she is just not as nice as you thought. It is also important to be clear that you are legally married until your annulment is granted. A court must declare it invalid for it to be erased.
Nuts and Bolts
You file for annulment in the same way you file for divorce (usually via a petition or complaint) with the same court in your state that hears divorces, but the papers say annulment instead of divorce. The case is treated much like a divorce in that custody, child support, and division of marital assets and debts are all handled by the court. Alimony is not awarded, unlike in divorce cases.
An annulment can be contested by your spouse and can go to a trial. In reality, most annulment happen with marriages that are very recent and are usually not contested. Because the marriages are so brief, there is usually nothing to divide and no children of the marriage. You could be married for fifty years though and still get an annulment if you meet the criteria.
The result of a legal annulment is that your marriage never legally existed. In the eyes of the state, you have always been single. Children from an annulled marriage are legitimate however, and not considered to be born out of wedlock.