Having a marriage annulled is different from getting a divorce, and a legal annulment is different than a religious annulment such as one performed by the Catholic church. When you secure a legal annulment, it is as if the marriage never happened in the eyes of the law. Many people prefer this in order to avoid the stigma that they believe is associated with divorce, but annulment is not an option for everyone.
Marriages that are annulled are generally very short in duration and no children are produced in the marriage. The grounds for annulling a marriage are classified into two different categories: voidable grounds and grounds under which the marriage is automatically and always considered void.
Under the family law in California, a marriage will be considered void if:
- The marriage is incestuous. When immediate family members marry each other, such as siblings getting married, the marriage is void as immediate family members are not permitted to marry under the law. An annulment is always possible in situations where two close family members have married.
- One of the spouses was already married at the time when the marriage took place. This is referred to as bigamy. In the United States, polygamous marriage is not permitted, so if someone gets married who is already married, the second marriage is void.
Voidable grounds for annulment on the other hand, can result in a marriage being annulled but they do not automatically result in a marriage being annulled. Voidable grounds for marriage include:
- Age: If one or both of the spouses were under the age of consent at the time of the marriage this can be grounds to annul the marriage.
- Fraud: If the marriage was entered into under false pretenses or under fraudulent circumstances the marriage may be voided and annulled.
- Force: If one or both spouses was forced or coerced into entering into the marriage it can be voided and annulled.
- Capacity: If one or both spouses lacked physical capacity at the time of the marriage or was mentally unsound and not able to consent to the marriage, this is grounds for annulment.
Unless your marriage meets the criteria to be considered either void or voidable, you will not be eligible for a legal annulment. You may still be able to secure a religious annulment from your religious institute of choice, as churches and individual religious groups set their own rules- but this will not be a legal annulment. An experienced divorce and family law attorney in California can help you to determine if you are eligible to have your marriage annulled and can assist you in following the necessary process in order to end your marriage through either annulment or divorce.