The Basics of Annulment in Maryland

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

If you want to know if your marriage is eligible for an annulment in the state of Maryland, this article explains what an annulment is, when a marriage can be annulled, and the effects of an annulment.

You’ll want to check with the circuit court of the county where you or your spouse live to see if they have requirements beyond the steps listed below. If you have additional questions about whether your marriage can be annulled, contact a local family law attorney in for advice.

Overview of an Annulment

An annulment is different from a divorce: a divorce ends a marriage; an annulment means no valid marriage ever existed. Some people may prefer an annulment to a divorce for social or religious reasons. If your marriage should have been invalid from the date of marriage, you may be able to have your marriage annulled.

Grounds For an Annulment

You must prove one of the following legal "grounds" (reasons) to have your marriage annulled in Maryland:

  • one spouse coerced the other to get married (under duress)
  • one spouse defrauded the other to convince him or her to get married
  • one spouse is mentally incapable of getting married
  • one spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of the marriage
  • the spouses are more closely related than first cousins
  • one spouse is under 18, unless the underage spouse is 16 or 17 and had parental consent or the underage spouse is 15 and pregnant and had parental consent

Some grounds for annulment have additional requirements:

If a spouse wants the marriage annulled because they were coerced into the marriage, the coercion had to exist at the time of the actual ceremony. Also, the spouse has to be in fear of great bodily harm. Maryland courts have annulled a marriage when there was a “shotgun wedding,” where a wife’s family threatened to shoot the husband if he did not marry the wife.

If a spouse wants the marriage to be annulled for fraud, the fraud has to be related to the essential elements of the marriage. It is not enough that one spouse lied about such as his or her financial situation, habits, temper or personality. For fraud to be a basis to annul a marriage, it must be something that affects the health or well-being of the parties or the offspring of the marriage. Hiding a previous marriage and divorce is not enough to annul a marriage, but hiding prior insanity would be sufficient to annul a marriage. A wife hiding that she is pregnant by another man at the time of marriage would also be sufficient for an annulment.

If a marriage happened because one spouse coerced or defrauded the other spouse, and the innocent spouse continues to live with the other spouse after discovering the fraud, the fraud ground has been waived (given up) and the marriage can no longer be annulled.

How Do I Get an Annulment?

In Maryland, you have to file a “Complaint for Annulment” in the circuit court for the county where you and your spouse live. If both spouses do not live in Maryland, one spouse needs to have lived in Maryland for at least a year. See if the clerk at the circuit court for your county has a sample complaint for annulment that you can use. A link to contact information for all Maryland circuit courts is included in the "Resources" section below.

The spouse filing for annulment is called the “plaintiff” in the complaint, and the other spouse is the “defendant.”

Your complaint for annulment needs to state the date of the marriage and the city, county, and state where you were married. The complaint should also list the names and birthdates of any children born during the marriage. You will have to state the legal ground that makes your marriage eligible to be annulled. If you want the court to decide custody, child support, visitation, alimony or division of property, you need to state that in your complaint as well.

After you file your complaint with your local circuit court, you need to serve your spouse with a copy of the complaint. The clerk at your circuit court can tell you your options to serve your spouse. It is possible to serve your spouse even if you can’t find them or they live out of state.

You will have to testify at a hearing in front of a judge before your marriage can be annulled. It doesn’t matter if your spouse agrees that the annulment should be granted. If you are the one asking for an annulment, it is your burden to prove your case. A judge will only grant the annulment if there is clear evidence that the legal grounds for annulment exist. If the judge is convinced, the judge will sign an order annulling your marriage.

Effect of an Annulment

When an annulment is granted, it means there was never a marriage at all. Both spouses can say that they were never married to each other.

In Maryland, when a marriage is annulled, the judge can still decide issues like custody, visitation, child support, alimony and attorney’s fees the same as in a divorce. The court can also divide any property the spouses have, including bank accounts, pensions and retirement accounts.

A marriage can still be annulled if children were born during the marriage. In Maryland, children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate unless it can be clearly proven that the husband did not father the children. When a child is declared legitimate, both parents have the duty to financially support the child.

Resources

For the full text of the law on annulment in Maryland, see the Maryland Family Code, Title 2

Contact information for all the Maryland Circuit Courts, plus information on whether your circuit court has a volunteer program that can help you file for annulment is here: http://www.mdcourts.gov/family/localcontacts.html

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