Annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept, because popular culture and religion have presented differing and often inaccurate views of what an annulment means in terms of family law. This article focuses on "civil annulments" not "religious annulments," which can only be granted by a church or clergy member.
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.
Annulments are rare. Nonetheless, there are a number of "grounds," or reasons, why you can ask a Delaware court to enter a decree (a final, binding court order) to annul your marriage. If you can prove that any of the following circumstances exist, Delaware law says that the courts shall (must) issue a decree of annulment:
It's important to know that there are legal deadlines, known as "statutes of limitations," that govern when you can file for an annulment in Delaware:
It's necessary to get a court order to officially annul a marriage. If you or your spouse have lived in Delaware for the six months immediately preceding the annulment proceedings, you can file for an annulment. If you want to pursue an annulment, you should plan to file the initial paperwork in the family court of the county where you or your spouse are currently living.
An annulment proceeding begins when the petitioner (the person asking for the annulment) files and serves a petition for annulment. If the respondent (the person receiving the petition) agrees or fails to file an answer within 20 days, then the annulment will be uncontested and will take less time. If the respondent doesn't agree and files an answer that challenges the main allegations in the petition, then the annulment process will be contested and it will take longer to work out the issues.
To initiate an annulment, official court papers are available. Just complete the papers and follow the instructions located here. If you've been served with annulment papers and you want to respond, complete the papers and follow the instructions located here.
If you're thinking about asking for an annulment, 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 any possible statutes of limitations with an attorney to make sure you don't miss any deadlines.
If you are the petitioner and you win your case and get an annulment, you should know that your marriage will be deemed invalid from the moment you married, not from the date of the judge's order. You will be restored to the status of a single person and you can marry again.
Some people worry that if their marriage is annulled, the paternity of their children will be called into question. This is not an issue in Delaware, because the law explicitly states that "children born of an annulled marriage are legitimate." This means that the Delaware family courts, which have the jurisdiction to hear annulment cases, will decide custody, visitation, and child support matters just as they would for a couple that's divorcing.
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 Delaware's laws are different and more generous. Delaware annulment law allows the family court to apply the property law of divorce to annulment proceedings. This means that when a judge decides whether to grant the annulment, the judge will also divide the couple's property and debt equitably (fairly), in a way that's similar to the outcome in a divorce.
The Delaware Judiciary's Divorce and Annulment overview contains valuable information about the annulment process and also offers phone numbers for legal help offered at different locations by different providers.
You can also review Title 13 (Domestic Relations), Chapter 15 (Divorce and Annulment) of the Delaware Code to research annulment law.