Can My Marriage Be Annulled? FAQs About Annulment

Learn what it takes to qualify for annulment and how soon you can get one.

By , Retired Judge
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How Does an Annulment Differ From a Divorce?

When you get divorced, it ends your marriage. An annulment, on the other hand, treats a marriage as though it never existed. The two aren't interchangeable, and an annulment normally is more difficult to obtain.

Although there's relatively little stigma attached to divorce today, some people still view it as socially unacceptable. These individuals are likely to pursue an annulment, with divorce as a last resort. Likewise, there are those who seek an annulment for religious reasons.

The bottom line is that in today's environment you're much more likely to qualify for a divorce than an annulment. So the choice of which avenue to pursue may be out of your hands.

When Can a Marriage Be Annulled and How Do I Know if I Qualify?

A marriage can be annulled only when the law concludes that your marriage was "void" or "voidable." In order to make that determination, it's crucial to examine the circumstances surrounding the marriage.

There's a major distinction between "void" and "voidable." A void marriage automatically qualifies for an annulment, because it's based on an illegal act. In a voidable marriage, however, legal reasons for an annulment may exist, but they won't invalidate the marriage unless one of the spouses requests the annulment.

What Are Some Examples of Void and Voidable Marriages?

As indicated above, a void marriage wasn't legal to begin with. Two of the most common underlying reasons for considering a marriage void are the illegal acts of "bigamy" and "incest". A bigamous marriage exists when one of the spouses was legally married to someone else when the marriage took place. An incestuous marriage occurs when the spouses are close family members. Exactly what constitutes a close family member depends on a particular state's law. Some are obvious, like brother and sister. But some states may also ban marriage between first cousins.

Some of the more common scenarios that could make a marriage voidable are:

  • A spouse hadn't yet reached the legal age to marry under state law. But the marriage may no longer be voidable if, after reaching legal age, the underage spouse still agrees to the marriage.
  • Either of the spouses lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage. You might see this where, at the time of the marriage, one of the spouses was suffering from serious mental illness, or was highly intoxicated or under the debilitating influence of drugs.
  • Either of the spouses was permanently impotent at the time of the marriage. But this wouldn't qualify if the non-impotent spouse knew about the condition when the marriage occurred.
  • One of the spouses was under duress at the time of the marriage. The duress would have to be significant, such as the threat of violence.
  • The marriage is based on fraud. An example might be where one of the spouses was addicted to drugs, but didn't tell the other spouse about it prior to the marriage. However, if it's proven that the other spouse would have been willing to go through with the marriage had that spouse known about the condition beforehand, then the fraud would no longer be a viable basis for annulment.

Regarding voidable marriages, it's important to note that if you ratified (approved) the marriage after discovering the circumstances that could make it invalid, it's not likely a court will grant an annulment. Continuing to live together as a married couple after learning about the condition that could potentially invalidate the marriage is a typical example of ratification.

What's the Effect of an Annulment?

The most obvious effect of an annulment is that it renders the marriage null and void. But there are other possible consequences. For example, it could impact a spouse's ability to get support (alimony) from the other spouse. Likewise, it might affect a spouse's rights to property acquired during the marriage. So you should definitely consult with a family law attorney before making any decisions regarding annulment.

How Long After Marriage Can You Get an Annulment? How About a Divorce?

Most annulments come about relatively shortly after a marriage, although there can be exceptions. Some states won't allow an application for an annulment after a certain time period. To learn more about your state's annulment laws, see the Annulment section of our website.

In answer to the question how soon can you get a divorce after marriage, state laws aren't usually restrictive. But remember that divorce laws are state-specific, so you'd have to check your state's statutes to determine divorce eligibility.

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