Overview of Annulment
Much like a traditional divorce, an annulment ends a marriage. However, an annulment is a legal proceeding that goes even further by declaring a marriage invalid or void through a court order. In some cases, it’s as if the marriage never happened.
This article focuses only on civil annulments, not religious annulments, which can only be granted by a church or clergy member and have no legal effect on marital status as far as the state is concerned.
What are the Grounds for an Annulment?
Ohio recognizes several "grounds" (reasons) for annulment that fit into one of two categories: void and voidable marriages. To obtain an annulment, one of the following grounds must be proven.
Grounds for Void Marriages
Void marriages are those prohibited by law in Ohio and are not legal. Therefore, the conduct of the spouses such as continued cohabitation cannot ratify the marriage or make it valid. Void marriages include:
- incest - the marriage is to a first cousin or closer relative
- same-sex marriage, or
- bigamy or polygamy.
Grounds for Voidable Marriages
Voidable marriages are those that are valid but can be declared void under certain circumstances. Specifically, grounds for voidable marriages can be waived by continued living together (cohabitation) after the condition is discovered or cured. Voidable marriages include:
- one or both spouses were under the age of consent at the time of the marriage
- an unconsummated marriage
- a spouse was unable to consent to the marriage due to mental incapacity or incompetence, or
- the marriage consent was obtained by force or fraud.
What Happens When an Underage Spouse Reaches the Age of Consent?
While the fact that one or both spouses was underage at the time of marriage constitutes grounds for an annulment, such a claim must be brought within two years from when the formerly underage spouse reaches the age of consent. If the spouses continue to freely cohabitate after both have reached the age of consent, such a claim is waived.
Can Fraud Be Waived?
Although fraud is grounds for an annulment, a fraud claim can be waived (forfeited) if the spouses continue to live together after discovering the fraud. Specifically, in a situation where fraud would be sufficient for an annulment, if the innocent spouse discovers the fraud and does not immediately separate and live apart from the offending spouse, the the innocent spouse has confirmed the marriage, which will probably prevent an annulment on fraud grounds.
How Do I Get an Annulment?
Two kinds of annulments exist in Ohio: those for void marriages and those for voidable marriages. Void marriages are invalid immediately and do not require a court order to be annulled. By contrast, annulment of a voidable marriage in Ohio requires a trial and hearing before a judge to prove the grounds for annulment. In certain circumstances, an action for annulment can be brought by parents if their child was under age the age of consent was not obtained for the marriage or if their child lacks mental capacity.
An annulment will require at least one of the above grounds to be proven in court. This will require paperwork to be filed with the court and a court hearing with evidence including documents and/or witnesses that support a claim for annulment.
For more specific information regarding the procedure to obtain an annulment and what to expect at a hearing, please contact a local Ohio family law attorney for assistance.
Effects of an Annulment on Children and Support
In Ohio, although an annulment results in a voidable marriage, it does not affect the legitimacy of children born during the marriage. Simply, children born while parents are married in a lawful state or religious ceremony are legitimate even if that marriage is later annulled or declared void by a judge. Additionally, an annulment does nothing to affect custody or child support and instead establishes a presumption of paternity.
For a complete list of the grounds and effects of an annulment proceeding in Ohio, see OH ST § 3105.31 et seq. and OH ST §3111.01 et seq.