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What is an Annulment?

An annulment, also called a judgment of nullity, is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. Basically, an annulment treats the marriage or domestic partnership as though it never happened.

An annulment can result from a void marriage or a voidable marriage. A void marriage is one that was never legal or valid. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone seeks an annulment. A voidable marriage, however, is one that is valid until someone seeks an annulment. A voidable marriage can be declared invalid because of certain circumstances described below.

What Types of Marriage are Void?

Two types of void marriages are bigamy or incest.

Bigamy is where one spouse is already married or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else. A bigamous marriage is always void, except in very unique circumstances. According to California Family Code §2201(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(B), a bigamous marriage is illegal and void, unless: 1) the former spouse is absent and known to be living for 5 successive years immediately preceding the subsequent marriage, or 2) the former spouse is generally believed to be dead at the time the second marriage happened. If either of these situations applies, the marriage is voidable – it is still valid until someone files for an annulment.

Incest is where the two spouses are close blood relatives. California Family Code § 2200 states “marriages between parents and children, ancestors and descendants of every degree…between siblings… and between uncles or aunts and nieces or nephews, are incestuous, and void from the beginning.” Incestuous marriages are always void.

What Types of Marriages are Voidable?

California Family Code §2210 outlines the six circumstances that would make a marriage voidable and qualify for an annulment. They are: 1) age of consent, 2) the exceptions to bigamy outlined above, 3) unsound mind, 4) fraud, 5) force, and 6) physical incapacity.

Age of Consent

When either of the spouses were not of age to consent (18) at the time of the marriage, the marriage is voidable unless that person freely continued to cohabit with the other spouse after reaching the age of consent.  Put simply, if the person who wasn’t 18 at the time of the marriage turns 18 and continues to live with the other spouse, then the marriage may no longer be annulled.

Exceptions to Bigamy

The exceptions to bigamy (where the former spouse is known to be living but is absent for the 5 years immediately before the subsequent marriage, or the former spouse is believed to be dead at the time of the subsequent marriage) can get a judgment of nullity because these circumstances make the marriage voidable.

Unsound Mind

Unsound mind is when either of the spouses has a mental condition that made them incapable of understanding the duties and responsibilities of entering a marriage. The mental condition can be temporary (such as severe intoxication) or permanent. If either party is found to be of unsound mind at the time of the marriage, the marriage is voidable and grounds for an annulment. However, if the person of unsound mind comes to reason after the marriage and freely continues to live with the other spouse, the marriage is no longer voidable and an annulment may not be granted.

Fraud

An annulment can be sought when fraud makes the marriage voidable. Fraud is when one spouse makes false statements or withholds important information, and based on that fraud the other spouse agrees to marry. However, if the spouse whose consent was obtained by fraud later has full knowledge of the fraud and continues to live with the other spouse, the marriage is no longer voidable.

Force

A marriage is voidable when the consent of one spouse was obtained by force. A spouse can be forced into the marriage by physical force, threats of physical harm or even non-violent threats. However, if the spouse whose consent was obtained by force afterwards freely lives with the other as their spouse, the marriage is no longer voidable.

Physical Incapacity

Physical incapacity can make a marriage voidable and grant either spouse an annulment. Physical incapacity refers to one or both spouse’s inability to physically consummate the relationship at the time of the marriage. The physical incapacity must continue and appear to be incurable. A common example of this is impotence or certain medical complications.

When is the Deadline to File for an Annulment?

California Family Code § 2211 outlines the various statutes of limitation, or deadlines, to obtain an annulment based on the different legal grounds:

  • Age of Consent = within 4 years after reaching the age of consent
  • Exceptions to Bigamy = at any time during the life of the other spouse
  • Unsound Mind = at any time before death of either spouse
  • Fraud = within 4 years of discovering the fraud
  • Force = within 4 years after the marriage
  • Physical Incapacity = within 4 years after the marriage

There are no statutes of limitation on marriages that are incestuous or bigamous.

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