Civil 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.
Colorado is slightly different from other states. Colorado does not have an official court action called "annulment of marriage." However, you can ask a judge for a "declaration of invalidity," which is very similar to annulment. If the judge grants your request, it will mean that your marriage was never valid.
There are a number of grounds, or reasons, why you can ask a Colorado court to declare your marriage void:
Before you can go to court and ask a judge for a declaration of invalidity, you will need to be domiciled (meaning, a resident) in Colorado for at least thirty days before beginning the court proceedings. This waiting period doesn't apply if you were married in Colorado.
The Colorado Judicial Branch has instructions and forms that will guide you through the process of obtaining a declaration of invalidity. Fill out the forms completely and legibly, and follow the instructions exactly as they're written. You will file the forms at the district court in the county where you live. You don't have to file them in the county where you got married.
It's critical to know that there are deadlines (known as "statutes of limitation") built into Colorado's invalidity law. If you miss these deadlines, you may not be able to get a declaration of invalidity:
If you're thinking about asking for a declaration of invalidity, 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 when the court divides assets and debts. You will also want to discuss the statutes of limitations with an attorney to make sure you don't miss any deadlines.
If you prevail and obtain a declaration of invalidity, know that your marriage will be deemed invalid from the moment you married, not from the date of the judge's order.
Some people worry that if their marriage is declared void, the paternity of their children will be called into question. This is not necessarily an issue in Colorado. Colorado law specifically provides that children born of a prohibited relationship are legitimate. Similarly, Colorado has many different "presumptions of paternity" (strong legal assumptions that a man is the biological father), and one or more are likely to cover your children's situation. It is very difficult to overturn a presumption of paternity, and most result in a court making a final determination that the "presumed" father is the biological father.
Most state courts don't have statutory authority to award alimony or divide property or debts as part of an annulment case. The logic behind this is that there cannot be a marital estate if there wasn't a valid marriage. But Colorado is different and has a much more generous statute. Colorado's law specifically provides that the same child custody and support, property division, and alimony laws that apply to divorce cases also apply to invalidity cases. This means one or both spouses might have to pay alimony or child support, that each will be awarded property and assigned debt, and that each will have custodial and visitation rights.
Colorado Legal Services has an FAQ about declarations of invalidity, and a topic page dedicated to divorce and annulment. The site also features a legal directory that can help you find free or low-cost representation based on your geographic location.