Technically, a marriage is a legal contract between two willing people, and like any contract, there are certain minimum requirements that have to be met before a court will agree that it’s valid.
In North Carolina, a marriage is legally valid if four factors exist at the time the spouses married. First, the parties must be capable of marriage (meaning, they have the ability to get married because they are old enough to marry and they are able to understand the proceedings). Second, they must consent (agree) to marry each other. Third, they must give that consent freely, seriously, and in the presence of an official who has the power to marry them. Last, the official must declare that the couple is legally married, based on their consent. North Carolina law does not require that a marriage be consummated by sexual intercourse.
Other North Carolina marriage laws require that the wedding ceremony must be witnessed by a minimum of two witnesses. However, North Carolina’s appellate courts have not yet decided whether a marriage can be annulled if there weren’t two witnesses to a ceremony.
Possibly, but it’s unlikely, because it’s very difficult to provide enough proof and the law is limited. A marriage must meet all of the following six criteria, and if it does not, it can be annulled and the judge will state that it’s either “void” (meaning, the marriage was never valid) or “voidable” (meaning, it wasn’t always void but it could be declared void now, or the parties could choose to continue the marriage if they so desired). A marriage may be annulled if any of the following are not met:
In North Carolina, if there has been a marriage ceremony and the couple is known in the community as having a marital relationship, there is a presumption (a strong legal assumption that the judge must use) that the marriage is valid. Therefore, to overcome the presumption and obtain an annulment, a spouse must provide overwhelming proof that one of the above six grounds for annulment existed at the time of the marriage ceremony. This can be difficult to do.
An annulment is a judicial declaration that the marriage was void from the very beginning and was never legally valid. If you get an annulment, the court is saying, “your marriage never happened.” A divorce, on the other hand, acknowledges the existence of a valid marriage but simply terminates it. If you are divorced, the judge is saying, “your marriage is over.”
North Carolina judges grant what is known as an “absolute divorce.” This means that when the parties are divorced, the marriage bond is severed and neither spouse has any marital obligation to the other. Each of the spouses becomes a single person again and is free to remarry.
States that have “fault” divorce laws allow “innocent” spouses to obtain a divorce on the basis of emotional, physical, or financial injuries caused by the “guilty” spouse (the one who has committed some kind of marital misconduct). Obtaining a divorce on the basis of fault can be time-consuming and difficult, so North Carolina abolished all its fault laws in 1983 and replaced them with the following two laws.
The North Carolina no-fault divorce statute allows the parties to divorce if they meet three criteria. First, they must live “separate and apart” (meaning, they are not living as spouses and do not share a residence) for one uninterrupted year. Second, the reason they are living apart is that one or both want to stop living and acting as a married couple. Third, at least one of the spouses has lived in North Carolina for the last six months. That is all that the statute requires. This is a simple threshold to meet, because all it requires is the passage of time.
The court may also grant an absolute divorce on grounds of one spouse’s “incurable insanity.” This is the rarer of the two routes to an absolute divorce. It requires, among other things, that the spouses currently live separate and apart and that they have lived separate and apart for the last three years because the mentally ill spouse was confined for purposes of medical treatment. If you think this law might apply to you, it would be prudent to consult with an experienced family law attorney, because the law is complex.