Like a traditional divorce, an annulment ends a marriage. However, an annulment is a legal proceeding that goes one step further than a divorce by declaring (through a court order) that a marriage is invalid or void. In some cases, it’s as if the marriage never happened. Some individuals may want an annulment for personal reasons to avoid a divorce. This article focuses only on civil annulments, not "religious annulments," which can only be issued by a church or clergy member and generally have no legal effect on marital status as far as the state is concerned.
North Dakota recognizes seven grounds for an annulment. Unlike a divorce which can be based on irreconcilable differences, to obtain an annulment, one of the following grounds must be proven:
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, the underage claim may be waived (given up). If the spouses don't continue to cohabitate, an annulment action can be brought within four years.
Although fraud is a ground for an annulment, it can also be waived if the spouses continue to live together for four or more years 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 separate and live apart from the offending spouse and four years passes, the innocent spouse has ratified (confirmed) the marriage, preventing an annulment on fraud grounds.
An action to annul and incestuous marriage can be brought by either spouse at any time and no cut-off period applies. Similarly, a bigamous or polygamous marriage can be annulled at any time during the lifetime of the other spouse.
An annulment in North Dakota requires a trial and hearing before a judge. Unlike a divorce, which under certain circumstances can be granted upon written or sworn testimony without a trial, an annulment will require at least one of the above grounds to be proven in court.
You will need to file legal paperwork with the court, requesting an annulment, and you must bring evidence including documents and/or witnesses that can support your claims. In certain instances, 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.
For more specific information regarding the legal procedure to obtain an annulment and what to expect at a hearing, please contact a local North Dakota family law attorney for assistance.
In North Dakota, although an annulment results in a voidable marriage, it does not affect the legitimacy of children born during the marriage. Simply, 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.
For a complete list of the grounds and effects of an annulment proceeding in North Dakota, see ND ST § 14-04 et seq.