The Basics of Annulment in Colorado

Wondering if you can get an annulment? Learn about the grounds for an annulment and how to get one in Colorado.

Overview of Annulment and Void Marriages

Civil annulments and divorces are similar in the sense that they make a determination about marital status. But the vital difference between them is that divorce ends an existing, valid marriage, whereas annulment simply declares that what everyone thought was a marriage was never actually a marriage at all. In the eyes of the law, an annulled marriage never really existed.

Colorado is slightly different from other states. Colorado does not have an official court action called "annulment of marriage." However, you can ask a judge for a “declaration of invalidity,” which is very similar to annulment. If the judge grants your request, it will mean that your marriage was never valid.

Grounds for Requesting a Declaration of Invalidity

There are a number of grounds, or reasons, why you can ask a Colorado court to declare your marriage void:

  • At the time the marriage was solemnized (made official), one of the spouses lacked the capacity to consent because of mental problems or because of the intoxicating influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • One of the spouses lacks the physical ability to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse, and the other spouse didn’t know that at the time of the marriage.
  • One of the spouses was underage at the time of the marriage and failed to obtain the consent of a parent, guardian, or a Colorado judge.
  • One spouse perpetrated a fraud to convince the other spouse to agree to marriage. The fraud has to go to the heart, or “essence,” of the marriage relationship.
  • One or both spouses married because they were under duress (meaning, force or coercion exerted by someone else).
  • One or both parties only agreed to marry as a joke or a dare.
  • The marriage is prohibited by Colorado law because it is bigamous (meaning, one spouse is still legally married to someone else) or because the spouses are related by blood.

How Do I Get a Declaration of Invalidity?

Before you can go to court and ask a judge for a declaration of invalidity, you will need to be domiciled (meaning, a resident) in Colorado for at least thirty days before beginning the court proceedings. This waiting period doesn’t apply if you were married in Colorado.

The Colorado Judicial Branch has  instructions and forms  that will guide you through the process of obtaining a declaration of invalidity. Fill out the forms completely and legibly, and follow the instructions exactly as they’re written. You will file the forms at the district court in the county where you live. You don’t have to file them in the county where you got married.

It’s critical to know that there are deadlines (known as “statutes of limitation”) built into Colorado’s invalidity law. If you miss these deadlines, you may not be able to get a declaration of invalidity:

  • If your spouse lacked the ability to consent because of a mental problem or intoxication, you have to file for a declaration of invalidity within six months of learning what happened.
  • If your spouse is physically unable to have sexual relations, you must file for a declaration of invalidity within one year.
  • If a spouse was underage at the time of marriage and didn’t obtain proper legal consent from a judge, parent, or guardian, then either spouse, the parent, or the guardian have twenty-four months from the date of the marriage to file.
  • If a spouse was induced (tricked) into marrying because of a fraud, then that spouse has to file within six months of learning about the fraud.
  • If one or both spouses married under duress, they must file within six months of learning what happened.
  • If a spouse was married as the result of a joke or a dare, then they must file for a declaration of invalidity within six months of learning about the joke or dare.
  • If the marriage is against the law because of bigamy or consanguinity (blood relationship), either party or a party’s legal spouse or child must file at any time before the other spouse dies.

If you're thinking about asking for a declaration of invalidity, it's a good idea to talk to a lawyer first. In addition to the custodial and child support issues you'll face if you have kids, there could be very serious financial ramifications for you when the court divides assets and debts. You will also want to discuss the statutes of limitations with an attorney to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.

If you prevail and obtain a declaration of invalidity, know that your marriage will be deemed invalid from the moment you married, not from the date of the judge’s order.

Effect of a Void Marriage

Some people worry that if their marriage is declared void, the paternity of their children will be called into question. This is not necessarily an issue in Colorado. Colorado law specifically provides that children born of a prohibited relationship are legitimate. Similarly, Colorado has many different “presumptions of paternity” (strong legal assumptions that a man is the biological father), and one or more are likely to cover your children’s situation. It is very difficult to overturn a presumption of paternity, and most result in a court making a final determination that the “presumed” father is the biological father.

Most state courts don’t have statutory authority to award alimony or divide property or debts as part of an annulment case. The logic behind this is that there cannot be a marital estate if there wasn't a valid marriage. But Colorado is different and has a much more generous statute. Colorado’s law specifically provides that the same child custody and support, property division, and alimony laws that apply to divorce cases also apply to invalidity cases. This means one or both spouses might have to pay alimony or child support, that each will be awarded property and assigned debt, and that each will have custodial and visitation rights.

Resources

Colorado Legal Services has an  FAQ  about declarations of invalidity, and a  topic page  dedicated to divorce and annulment. The site also features a  legal directory  that can help you find free or low-cost representation based on your geographic location.

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