The Annulment: When Will California Law Say a Marriage Never Existed?

By December 10, 2009Legal Separation

When a judge grants an annulment in California, the parties are deemed to have never been married in the eyes of the law (although the wedding guests who witnessed the union may tend to disagree).  Compare this to a dissolution (divorce), where a valid marriage is terminated for reasons created post-marriage.  Under California law, the grounds for nullifying a marriage or domestic partnership are broader than commonly believed.  Even so, most marriages can’t be undone with an annulment, and despite the myths, an annulment is not an easy way out.  An annulment is a potential alternative to divorce only when there’s reason to question the validity of the marriage.  Immediate regret and disappointment are not legal bases for annulling a marriage.  Depending on the basis for the annulment, a judge may either declare the marriage to have been unlawful from the outset (a “void” marriage), or to have been valid until formally annulled by the court (a “voidable” marriage). 

Bigamy, polygamy, being too closely related, or failing to comply with the legal formalities and requirements for getting married (including consent) render a marriage or domestic partnership “void.”  An exception may apply in the case of bigamy.  If one spouse was still legally married to someone else at the time of the alleged new marriage either because the prior spouse was believed to be dead, or had been missing and not known to be alive for five or more consecutive years immediately before the next marriage, then the later marriage will only be “voidable” under California law.  When else will a marriage be voidable?  Consider the following examples:

– The marriage was forced, or consent to marry was obtained through certain types of fraud or concealment that go to the essence of the marriage.  For example, if one spouse had promised to have children but intended not to have any (or lied about the capacity to have kids), then this fraud can make the marriage voidable.

– One person is physically incapable of consummating the marriage.

– A person was of unsound mind and incapable of understanding that he or she was entering into a marriage and of understanding marital obligations.

– If a person was under age 18 at the time of getting married and consent from the minor’s parents, guardian, or the court wasn’t obtained.

When a marriage is only voidable, sometimes an annulment will no longer be possible if the parties voluntarily live together after learning relevant facts or after a disability passes.  Not only that, but time limits apply to most court actions for annulments.  These “statutes of limitation” vary depending on the legal basis for annulling the marriage, and once the time period has lapsed only a divorce can terminate the marriage.  Also keep in mind that a legal annulment has nothing to do with a church or religious annulment, which will likely have different grounds and will have no legal effect on your marital status.  California doesn’t have a residency requirement to seek an annulment, and if an annulment is granted, the family court may still need to determine child support, custody, and other orders common to divorce proceedings.  If you believe that your marriage qualifies to be annulled, your case must be filed before any deadline expires.  We’ll evaluate the circumstances surrounding your marriage and take the appropriate steps to seek an annulment or dissolution.  For experienced legal help with your family law matter, contact Minella Law Group at (619) 289-7948.