The Basics of Annulment in Virginia

Learn about the grounds for an annulment and how to get one in Virginia.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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This article explains the basics of an annulment in Virginia, including how an annulment differs from divorce and how to get an annulment in Virginia.

If you have specific questions about annulment after reading this article, or are considering filing for annulment, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

What is Annulment?

An annulment in Virginia is different from a divorce: a divorce is the end to a valid marriage, while an annulment is the end of an invalid marriage. A court may grant an annulment when there is a legal reason the marriage shouldn't have ever existed. If there is a reason your marriage should have been invalid from the beginning, you may be eligible to have your marriage annulled.

Grounds For an Annulment in Virginia

For a marriage to be annulled in Virginia, a spouse needs a legal ground (or reason) for annulment. Each of the following is a legal ground for annulment in Virginia:

  • Bigamy – a spouse already has a husband or wife at the time of marriage
  • Incest – the spouses are related, closer than first cousins
  • Incompetent – one spouse wasn't mentally able to understand the marriage
  • Fraud – a spouse only agreed to marry because of the other spouse's deception
  • Impotence – one spouse is unable to engage in sexual relations
  • Underage – one spouse is under the legal age to be married
  • Prostitute or felon – one spouse didn't tell the other they were a prostitute or convicted felon
  • Child by other person – a wife is pregnant by another man at the time of marriage or a husband has a child by another woman within 10 months of marriage
  • Duress – one spouse only married because of force or fear of serious harm, and
  • Sham marriage – the spouses got married for other intentions besides the normal purposes of marriage.

Some of these legal grounds have specific rules:

For fraud to be a legal ground to annul a marriage, the fraud must be bad enough that there would not have been a marriage without it. Fraud such as lies about age, health, wealth, and prior marriages aren't enough to have a marriage annulled. Annulments have been granted for the following frauds in Virgina: lying about a venereal disease, lying about religious beliefs, and hiding pregnancy by another person.

If a spouse is impotent, but the other spouse continues to live with that spouse for a long time after finding out about the impotence, the marriage is no longer eligible for annulment.

The legal age for marriage in Virginia is 18, with certain exceptions - marriage is legal at age 16 with the consent of a parent or guardian. If a woman is under 16 and pregnant, a marriage is legal with consent of a parent or guardian. Marriage of a girl over 14 is allowed to prevent a statutory rape conviction in Virginia. If any of these exceptions are met at the time of marriage, the marriage won't be annulled because a spouse was underage.

For an annulment to be granted because of duress, a spouse must have been coerced or threatened at the time of the marriage.

Sham marriages that may be annulled include marriage just to legitimize a child without intending to live together and marriages only to gain immigration status.

How Do I Get an Annulment in Virginia?

You will need to file a "Complaint for Annulment" in the circuit court for the county where either you or your spouse lives. Either you or your spouse needs to have lived in Virginia and the county where you are filing for at least six months. The spouse filing for annulment is the "plaintiff" and the other spouse is the "defendant." Contact the circuit court clerk's office for your county to see if they have forms you can use to file for annulment.

Your complaint needs to state the full names for you and your spouse, and your spouse's address and phone number. You will need to list the date, city, and state of your marriage. You'll have to state which spouse lives in the county where you are filing the complaint. Your complaint should also say whether you want the judge to decide child custody, visitation, or child support. In Virginia, you cannot ask the court to divide property or order alimony in an annulment.

When you file your complaint for annulment, you need to serve it on your spouse. Your superior court clerk's office can help you serve your spouse; you may be able to serve your spouse even if he or she lives out of state or can't be found.

Finally, you'll have a hearing before a judge in your county superior court where you'll have to prove the legal grounds for your annulment. If the judge believes you've proven your case, you may have your marriage annulled.

Effect of an Annulment

An annulment of your marriage means that you and your former spouse were never legally married.

Unlike many other states, in Virginia, a judge can't order alimony or property division after an annulment like a judge can in a divorce. The judge can, however, still decide child custody, visitation and child support.

Children of annulled marriages are considered legitimate, meaning they can inherit from either parent, and they have the right to be financially supported by both parents.


To read the full text of Virginia law on annulment, see the Code of Virginia, Title 20, Chapter 6.

A map and contact information for all Virginia circuit courts is here.

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