Tennessee law allows some marriages to be ended by annulment rather than by divorce. This articles explains what an annulment is, which marriages are eligible for annulment, and the effects of an annulment.
If you have specific questions about whether your marriage can be annulled, contact a Tennessee family law attorney. You should also contact the circuit court for your county to see if they have sample forms you can use to file for annulment, or if your county has requirements besides those listed here.
Overview of an Annulment
An annulment is not the same thing as a divorce: divorce terminates a valid marriage, while annulment means there was never a valid marriage to begin with. If there is a legal reason your marriage was invalid from the beginning, you may be eligible to have your marriage annulled in Tennessee.
Grounds For an Annulment
There are a number of legal grounds for annulment in Tennessee, including:
- Insanity – a spouse was insane or unable to understand the nature of marriage when the spouses married
- Underage – one or both spouses was too young to be married
- Incest – the spouses are related, closer than first cousin
- Bigamy – a spouse has a living husband or wife at the time of marriage
- Duress – a spouse only married because they were coerced
- Fraud – one spouse defrauded the other into getting married
- Impotence – one spouse physically cannot have sexual intercourse, and
- Denial of marital rights – one spouse refuses to live with the other or have sexual relations during the marriage.
Some of these grounds for annulment have other requirements:
The legal age for marriage in Tennessee is 16. If one spouse was under 16 at the time of marriage but had permission from circuit court judge to get married, the marriage won’t be annulled. A person acting on an underage spouse’s behalf, like a parent or guardian, can file for the annulment in place of the underage spouse.
If a spouse was insane at the time of marriage but regains sanity during the marriage and continues to live with the other spouse, the marriage won’t be annulled.
If one spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of marriage, but that husband or wife had been missing for at least five years with no sign of life, the marriage won’t be annulled.
For a marriage to be annulled because a spouse is impotent, the impotence has to be permanent, and the impotence has to have existed before the marriage.
If a spouse wants an annulment based on a denial of marital rights, they must have never lived together or had sexual intercourse. If the spouses signed an agreement before the marriage agreeing not to live together, however, the marriage won’t be annulled for this reason.
For fraud to be a legal ground to annul a marriage, the fraud has to be essential to the marriage. If the wife was pregnant by another man at the time of marriage, that will be grounds for annulment by fraud unless the spouses also had sexual relations before marriage. Also, if one spouse was sterilized before the marriage and didn’t tell the other spouse, that may be grounds for annulment. Other types of fraud are unlikely to be enough for an annulment.
How Do I Get an Annulment?
You will need to file a “Complaint for Annulment” in the circuit court of the county where either you or your spouse currently lives. Either you or your spouse needs to have lived in Tennessee for six months to file for annulment in the state. The spouse filing for annulment should be listed as the “plaintiff” in the complaint, and the other spouse listed as the “defendant.” Ask your county clerk’s office if they have a sample complaint for annulment you can use. A link with contact information for the Tennessee circuit court clerk’s offices is below.
The complaint for annulment will need to include several pieces of information. You should list the full name, address and date of birth for each spouse. You’ll also need to list the names and dates of birth for any children born during the marriage. The complaint should state which party has lived in Tennessee for at least six months. If you want the court to decide child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or property division, you’ll need to state that in the complaint as well.
After you’ve filled out your complaint for annulment, you should file the complaint in the circuit court clerk’s office. Get an extra copy of your filed complaint to serve on your spouse. The clerk’s office can explain your options for serving your spouse, including options if your spouse lives out of state or you can’t find your spouse.
The court will schedule a hearing where you’ll have to prove your legal grounds to have your marriage annulled. You should bring any evidence and witnesses to the hearing that support your grounds for annulment. If the judge believes you’ve proven your case, the judge will sign an order granting the annulment.
Effect of an Annulment
When an annulment is granted, it means you never had a valid marriage. You can legally say you were never married to your former spouse after an annulment.
At your annulment hearing, the judge can decide the same issues that come up in divorce: custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.
If you had children during a marriage that is annulled, they will be considered legitimate under Tennessee law. Children that are legitimate have the right to be financially supported by both parents, and can inherit from either parent.
To read the full text of Tennessee law on annulment, see the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 36, Chapter 4.
A map and contact information for all of the Tennessee circuit courts is here.
See Tennessee Divorce and Family Law to learn more information about the divorce process.