Overview of Annulment
This article focuses on "civil annulments" not "religious annulments," which can only be granted by a church or clergy member. Civil annulments and divorces both 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.
Grounds for an Annulment in Idaho
In Idaho, the reasons, or "grounds," for annulment are:
- One of the spouses was underage at the time of the marriage and didn't get the consent of a parent or guardian. This is only a basis for annulment if the parties don't live together after the young person attains the age of consent.
- One spouse is still legally married to another living spouse (bigamy).
- Either spouse was of "unsound mind" (mentally incompetent) at the time of the marriage. This is only a basis for annulment if the mentally ill spouse hasn't recovered. If that spouse regains mental health and freely chooses to live with the other spouse, then mental incompetency can't be the basis for an annulment.
- One spouse tricked the other spouse into marriage by using fraud. But if the spouse who was fooled learns about the deceit and chooses to live with the other spouse anyway, this is not a basis for an annulment.
- One spouse agreed to the marriage because the other spouse used force to obtain the consent. However, if the spouse who was subjected to force freely chooses to live with the other spouse anyway, this is not a basis for an annulment.
- That a spouse was physically incapable of entering into a marriage. The physical incapacity has to be ongoing and incurable for this to be the basis of an annulment.
How Do I Get an Annulment?
If any of the above grounds exist, then the marriage can possibly be annulled. You or your spouse have the right to request an annulment. However, you need to be aware of the following "statutes of limitations" (deadlines). You can't get an annulment if you're past the deadline:
- If age of consent is an issue, the minor must file for annulment within four years of achieving the age of consent. Alternatively, a parent or guardian must file at any time before the minor reaches the age of legal consent.
- If bigamy is an issue, either spouse can file for annulment during the life of the other.
- If mental competency is an issue, the healthy spouse, or a relative or guardian of the sick spouse, must file at any time before either spouse dies.
- If fraud is an issue, the defrauded spouse has to file for annulment within four years of learning about the fraud.
- If force is an issue, the injured spouse must file for annulment within four years after the marriage.
- If physical incapacity is an issue, the healthy spouse must file for annulment within four years after the marriage.
To initiate the annulment process, you need to file a "petition for annulment" (legal paperwork requesting an annulment) in the county where you live. The petition must explain the legal basis for your request and the facts and reasons why the court should grant it.
If you're thinking about asking for an annulment, 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. You will also want to discuss any possible statutes of limitations with an attorney to make sure you don’t miss any deadlines.
Effect of an Annulment
In Idaho, the effect of a court-ordered annulment is that both parties become single people again and can remarry.
Some people worry that if their marriage is annulled, the paternity of their children will be called into question. This is not an issue in Idaho, because Idaho law specifically provides that children of marriages that have been annulled "are legitimate and succeed to the estate of both parents." This means that they enjoy the same rights as the children of parents who are married or divorcing. The only exception to this rule is if the annulment was based on the fraud that the wife was pregnant with another man's child at the time of marriage.
The same law requires the Idaho court that is deciding the annulment to "make necessary orders for the support of said child or children as the circumstances and surroundings of the parents may require." Therefore there will be a court order for child support, custody, and visitation.
It is very important to realize that Idaho law says that the courts must award custody of children in fraud or force-based annulment cases to the innocent parent (meaning, the parent who was lied to or abused). Similarly, Idaho courts have the discretion to require the guilty parent (meaning, the parent who exerted forced or perpetrated the fraud) to pay for the children's education and maintenance. This is another reason why it's very important to talk to a lawyer.
Once your marriage is annulled, you can't claim to be a surviving spouse anymore for purposes of collecting retirement, insurance, or survivorship benefits.
Many state courts, including Idaho, 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 to divide if there wasn't a valid marriage to begin with. You can, however, work out your own property agreement designed to restore the spouses to the financial position they were in before the annulment.
Idaho Legal Aid Services is a nonprofit dedicated to helping low-income Idahoans with their legal problems. They have posted contact information applicable to their multiple office locations. You can also try to get legal help through the Idaho Volunteer Lawyers Program.