In Wisconsin a marriage can be ended by divorce or by annulment. This article explains the difference between divorce and annulment, how to get an annulment in Wisconsin, and the effects of an annulment.
You should talk to a Wisconsin family law attorney if you have specific questions after reading this article. Check with the circuit court clerk's office for your county to see if they have sample forms you can use to file for annulment.
Annulment is different from divorce in an important way: a divorce ends a valid marriage; an annulment ends an invalid marriage. If there are reasons your marriage was invalid from the beginning, you may be eligible to have your marriage annulled.
You need a legal ground for an annulment in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has the following legal grounds for annulling a marriage:
Some of these legal grounds have additional conditions:
In Wisconsin, the legal age of marriage is 18, 16 or 17 with consent from a parent or guardian, or under 16 with consent from a parent or guardian and a court. If the underage spouse had the correct consent at the time of marriage, the marriage won't be annulled later because a spouse is underage. The marriage also won't be annulled after the underage spouse turns 18. A parent or guardian can file for annulment on behalf of an underage spouse.
Force or duress can only annul a marriage if it was present on the date of the marriage itself.
Fraud must be about something essential to the marriage, meaning the fraud must be something that would have prevented the marriage if both spouses knew.
Impotence will only be a legal ground to annul a marriage when one spouse didn't know about the other spouse's inability to have sexual intercourse at the time of the marriage.
For a marriage to be annulled based on mental incapacity, force, duress, fraud or impotence, a spouse has to file for annulment within one year of the time that spouse discovered the reason for annulment.
To get an annulment in Wisconsin, you'll need to file a "Petition for Annulment" in the circuit court for the county where either you or your spouse lives. You need to have lived in Wisconsin at least 30 days to file your petition. The spouse asking for the annulment is the "petitioner," and the other spouse is the "respondent."
Your petition should list you and your spouse's full names, addresses, dates of birth, and occupations. You'll also need to list the date and location of your marriage. You should state the legal grounds that make your marriage eligible for annulment. If you have children, give their names and dates of birth. You also need to state anything you want the judge to order; you can ask the judge to decide child support, custody, visitation, alimony, and property division.
File your completed petition with the county circuit court clerk's office, and get an extra copy to serve on your spouse. The clerk's office can help you decide the best way to serve your spouse; there are options even if your spouse lives out of state or can't be located.
After serving the petition on your spouse, the circuit court will hold a hearing to decide whether to grant the annulment. Bring evidence and witnesses that will help you prove your legal grounds to the judge. If the judge is convinced your marriage qualifies for an annulment, the judge will sign an order granting your annulment, as well as all of the other things you asked the judge to decide.
When the judge grants you an annulment, it means the judge has decided that your marriage never legally existed. You and your spouse can say you were never married to each other.
The judge can order the same things as in a divorce: child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.
If there are children from the marriage, they are still considered legitimate after an annulment. Legitimate children have the right to inherit from both parents and the right to be financially supported by both parents.
To read the full text of Wisconsin law on annulment, see the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 767, Subchapter IV.
Here is a map and links to contact information for the Wisconsin circuit courts.