West Virginia has two ways to end a marriage: divorce or annulment. This article explains what an annulment is, how to get an annulment in West Virginia, and the effects of a West Virginia annulment.
Contact a West Virginia family law attorney to answer any specific questions you have after reading this article. You should also contact the family court for your county to see if they have sample forms you can use to file for annulment.
Although divorces and annulments both end marriages, there is an important difference: divorces end valid marriages, while annulments end a marriage that should never have been valid from the beginning.
You'll have to prove a legal ground to have your marriage annulled in West Virginia. West Virginia has several legal grounds for annulment:
Other details about these legal grounds:
The legal age to get married in West Virginia is 18, or 16 with consent from a parent or legal guardian. A person under 16 can only get married with consent from a parent or legal guardian, plus consent from a circuit court judge. If a spouse was married under the age of 18 but had the proper consent, the marriage won't be annulled because a spouse is underage.
For a marriage to be annulled because of incompetence or impotence of one spouse, the condition had to exist at the time or marriage. Also, if the spouses still live together after the incompetence or impotence is discovered, the marriage won't be annulled.
For a marriage to be annulled because of fraud, the fraud must be about something so extreme that there wouldn't have been a marriage if it were known ahead of time. For example, a wife hiding her pregnancy from another man at the time of marriage is fraud that would make the marriage eligible for annulment. In rare cases, a spouse hiding a very promiscuous past (like being a prostitute) can be legal grounds for an annulment. A marriage may also be annulled when a spouse hides a venereal disease. If both spouses knew about any of these frauds before the marriage, or they continued to live together after finding out, the marriage won't be annulled.
For force or coercion to be legal grounds for annulment, the force or coercion had to be there on the day of the marriage itself. If the spouses freely live together after the force or coercion is gone, the marriage won't be annulled.
You will need to file a "Complaint for Annulment" in a county family court clerk's office. You should file the complaint in the county where either you or your spouse lives, or where you last resided together. You will need to have lived in West Virginia for at least one year or have married in West Virginia. The spouse filing for annulment is the "plaintiff," or "petitioner," and the other spouse is the "defendant," or "respondent."
Your petition needs to list you and your spouse's full names, addresses, and social security numbers if you know them. If you have children, you should list their names, dates of birth, and where they currently live. Your petition should say when and where you and your spouse got married, and where you last lived together. You will need to state the legal grounds for your annulment. Also state everything you need the judge to decide; the judge can decide child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.
After filing your petition in the family court clerk's office for your county, you'll have to serve a copy of the petition on your spouse. The family court clerk's office can help you serve your spouse. There are options to serve your spouse with the petition even if they live out of state or can't be found.
After your spouse has been served with the petition, the family court will schedule a hearing to decide whether the annulment should be granted. You should bring any evidence and witnesses to the hearing that can help prove your legal grounds for annulment. If the judge agrees that you've proven your case, the judge will grant your annulment.
When a judge grants an annulment, it means your marriage never legally existed. You and your spouse were never legally married because it was invalid from the beginning.
Children of annulled marriages have the same rights as children from divorced parents. Children from annulled marriages still have the right to financial support from each parent and can inherit from both parents.
To read the full text of West Virginia law on annulment, see the West Virginia Code § 48-2-301-302 and § 48-3-101-107.
A map and contact information for each of the West Virginia family courts are here.