The Basics of Annulment in Pennsylvania

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

Overview of Annulment

Like a traditional divorce, an annulment ends a marriage. However, an annulment is a legal proceeding that goes further by declaring a marriage invalid or void through a court order. In some cases, it’s as if the marriage never happened. Some individuals may want an annulment for religious or personal reasons to avoid a divorce, but this article focuses only on civil annulments. A religious annulment can only be granted by a church or clergy member and has no legal effect on marital status as far as the state is concerned.

What are the Grounds for an Annulment?

Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania and are not legally recognized. However, in some instances, continued cohabitation after the impediment is removed can make an otherwise void marriage valid. Void marriages include:

  • one or both spouses to the alleged common law marriage were under age 18
  • a spouse was unable to consent to marriage due to mental incapacity or incompetence
  • the marriage is to first cousin or closer relative, or
  • the marriage is bigamous or polygamous.

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 age 16
  • one or both spouses were under age 18 and the marriage was performed without parental consent
  • the marriage was entered into under the influence of liquor or drugs (annulment must be brought within 60 days)
  • either spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse, or
  • the marriage consent was obtained by duress, coercion or fraud.

What Happens When the Underage Spouse Reaches 18?

While the fact that one or both spouses was underage at the time of marriage constitutes grounds for an annulment, 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, fraud can be waived 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 fraud may have been waived and the innocent spouse has ratified the marriage, preventing an annulment on fraud grounds.

How Do I Get an Annulment?

Two types of annulments exist in Pennsylvania: 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 Pennsylvania requires a trial and hearing before a judge to prove the grounds for annulment. Before an annulment action can be filed in Pennsylvania, one or both of the spouses must have resided in Pennsylvania for at least six months. In certain circumstances, an action for annulment can be brought by parents if their child was under age 18 and their consent was not obtained for the marriage or if their child lacks mental capacity.

An annulment will require at least one of the 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 the support a claim for an annulment.

For more specific information regarding the procedure to obtain an annulment and what to expect at a hearing, please contact a local Pennsylvania family law attorney for assistance.

Effects of an Annulment on Children and Support

In Pennsylvania, although an annulment results in a voidable marriage, it does not affect the legitimacy of children born during the marriage. Simply put, 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.

Resources

For a complete list of the grounds and effects of an annulment proceeding in Pennsylvania, see 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3301 et seq. and 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3303 et seq.

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