Annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept, because popular culture and religion have presented differing and often inaccurate views of what an annulment is in terms of family law.
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.
Annulments and divorces are similar in the sense that they 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.
Alaska is slightly different from other states. Alaska does not have an official court action called "annulment of marriage." However, you can ask a judge to declare that your marriage is "void," which has a very similar effect. A "void marriage" was never valid from the outset because the parties didn't have the capacity (legal ability) to enter into a marriage.
The difference between a void marriage and an annulled marriage is subtle. Once a spouse goes to court and a judge says that a marriage is annulled, it becomes void—it's as though the marriage never existed (also known as a "legal nullity"). But a void marriage has no legal effect regardless of whether you go to court. There is no legal foundation for a void marriage.
There are seven distinct situations when you can ask an Alaska court to declare your marriage void:
Keep in mind that if you continued to live with your spouse after any one of the following situations, the judge will not issue a legal order saying your marriage is void. Instead, you'll have to pursue a divorce:
Alaska doesn't have any forms you can use to ask a judge to declare your marriage void. You'll need to consult with an attorney to find out how to draft the forms. Alaska does have attorneys who provide "unbundled legal services," which are partial or limited-scope legal services at a discounted rate. For instance, you might be able to hire an attorney to draft the paperwork for you and set up your court date, then you might choose to represent yourself at the hearing. The official Alaska courts website also maintains a listing of free or low-cost lawyers who may be able to help.
If you're thinking about asking a judge to declare your marriage void, 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, because the court only divides assets and debts in the case of a divorce or separation.
Something else to keep in mind is that if you ask the court to declare your marriage void, your spouse has the right to bring a separate action asking the judge to declare the marriage valid. The court will hear all the testimony, read the laws and the paperwork, and issue a decision.
The "plaintiff" (person asking that the judge declare the marriage void) must be a resident of the state of Alaska before bringing the action.
Some people worry that if their marriage is declared void, the paternity of their children will be called into question. This is technically true. Because a void marriage has no validity, the children born of the "marriage" are illegitimate and it's as though they were born to single parents. However, this is really a technical distinction without much of a practical impact, because Alaska law provides that children of divorced, married, or unmarried parents are entitled to the same rights, protection, and financial support.
The Alaska court that hears the void or valid marriage case will make sure to determine parentage and enter custody and child support orders, or refer them to another court. If you have children, make sure to discuss this issue with an attorney.
Because a void marriage is legally viewed as never having been valid, an Alaska court doesn't have statutory authority to award alimony or divide property or debts as part of the family case. The logic behind this is that there cannot be a marital estate if there wasn't a valid marriage. The marital estate is instead divided in divorce cases, where a marriage is ending.
The Alaska Courts have an extensive online web presence with a wealth of information. The legal research page contains links to a wide variety of legal resources, including a legal dictionary, the Alaska statutes, and legal aid societies.