Unraveling The Mystery of Marriage Annulment

Annulment is a legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void as if it never occurred. Divorce, on the other hand, formally ends a legitimate marriage. 

This article will help you understand what an annulment is and walk you through the steps of obtaining an annulment, including eligibility, gathering required documents, preparing and filing the annulment paperwork with the court, representation by an attorney (or not), the annulment hearing, and more. 

What is an Annulment?

Annulment is a legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void as if it never happened. Divorce, on the other hand, formally ends a legitimate marriage.

An annulment is sought when one or both parties believe that the marriage was never valid to begin with and, therefore, should be annulled rather than ended in a divorce.

7 Common Reasons A Court Will Grant an Annulment 

A person may consider an annulment for a variety of reasons. Among the most common explanations are the following:

1. Fraud

If one of the parties lied about their identity, intentions, or circumstances before the marriage, the other party might seek an annulment based on deception or fraud.

2. Bigamy or Polygamy

If one of the parties was already married at the time of the marriage, the second marriage is void, and an annulment may be requested. Bigamy is a marriage in which one of the parties was already married at the time of the second marriage. Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse at a time.

3. Lack of Mental Capacity

An annulment may be requested on the grounds of mental incapacity if one party could not appreciate the nature of the marriage or could not make decisions at the time of the marriage.

4. Underage

An annulment may be sought if one of the parties was under the legal age of consent at the time of the marriage. The legal age of consent in most states is 18.

5. Failure to Consummate the Marriage

An annulment may be requested if one party is unable or unwilling to consummate the marriage. In the context of marriage, it is the first act of sexual intercourse after marriage.

6. Lack of Consent

If one of the parties was pressured or forced into the marriage, they might seek an annulment based on lack of consent. Consent means that a person voluntarily and willfully agrees to another person’s proposition. The person who consents must possess sufficient mental capacity to understand the proposition and agree to it. Consent also requires the absence of coercion, fraud, or error.

7. Sexual Impotence

Impotence is grounds for annulment in several jurisdictions. In some states, impotence must be permanent and incurable.  Furthermore, certain states may demand that the impotence existed at the time of the marriage and that the other party was unaware of it.

8. The Spouses are Closely Related

Because it is considered incestuous and illegal, being closely related to your spouse is grounds for annulment. Most states make it illegal to marry someone closely related to you, such as a sibling, parent, or grandparent. Incestuous marriages are void or voidable, meaning they are not legally recognized and can be annulled.

Is There a Time Limit to Getting a Marriage Annuled? 

Some states have time limits for filing an annulment, usually within a certain number of months or years after marriage. 

In California, for example, the time limit for petitioning for annulment usually is four years after discovering the grounds for annulment.

However, time restrictions and grounds for annulment differ depending on your state. It is best to examine your state’s specific laws to determine if there is a time limit for applying for annulment and the grounds for it.

What Are The Advantages of Annulment? 

The advantages of annulment include the following:

  • The marriage is considered void or never existed, so there is no need to divide property or assets.

  • It may be quicker and less expensive than a divorce.

  • It may be less emotionally and psychologically taxing than a divorce.

  • It may be an option for those who do not want to end a marriage but want it declared void or invalid.

What Are The Disadvantages of Annulment

The most significant disadvantage to having your marriage annulled is alimony. In several states, alimony will not be awarded because the marriage is considered void or as if it never existed.

If you were never married, there could not be alimony. This is an important issue and should not be overlooked. The court may view the marriage as having no legal or financial ties between the couple; therefore, alimony would not be necessary.

However, some states do allow for alimony to be awarded in an annulment, mainly if the annulment is based on grounds such as fraud, duress, or mental incapacity, where one party may have been taken advantage of or disadvantaged by the other party.

It’s essential to consult with a lawyer or legal professional to understand the laws in your jurisdiction and whether or not alimony can be awarded in an annulment.

What is the Process of Petitioning The Court For a Marriage Annulment? 

First, you must file a petition with your local family law court. The petition for annulment of marriage must contain specific information, which may vary depending on your state. 

In general, some common elements that a petition for annulment may include are the following:

  • Your Personal Information: The full names, addresses, and other personal information of both parties involved in the marriage.

  • The Date and place of the marriage: The date and place of the marriage must be included in the petition.

  • The Grounds for annulment: The petition must state the grounds for annulment, such as fraud, bigamy, incest, sexual impotence, mental incapacity, underage or duress.

  • Facts Supporting Annulment: The petition should include a short statement of the facts that supports the grounds for annulment.

  • Children of the Marriage: If there are any children from the marriage, the petition should include information about their dates of birth, custody, and support.

  • Your Request to the Court: The petition should state what the petitioner is asking the court to do, such as annul the marriage, award alimony, award child custody and child support, or divide property and assets.

  • Your Signature: The petition should be signed by the petitioner and notarized.

It’s important to check your state’s specific laws to determine the information that must be included in a petition for annulment.

What Happens After the Petition for Annulment is Filed? 

After the petition for annulment is filed, a copy of the petition will be served on the other spouse. After being served with a copy of the petition, the other spouse must file an answer, either agreeing to the allegations or denying them. 

If the parties agree on the annulment, the court will review the petition to determine if it meets the requirements for annulment. If it does, the court will set a date for a hearing and will likely grant the annulment.

Do You Have to Go to Court and Present Evidence 

Whether you will need to go to court depends on the laws in your state and the facts of your case. 

In general, you will need to go to court and present evidence if the petition for annulment is being contested. If the annulment is contested, the court will hear both sides of the story, review the evidence presented, evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, and then decide on the annulment.  

Do you Need an Attorney to Obtain an Annulment? 

It is not required to have an attorney to obtain an annulment, but it is highly recommended. 

An attorney can help you understand the laws of your state, gather the necessary documents, and represent you in court. They can advise you on the best course of action and negotiate with the other party.

How Long Does Annulment Take?

The time frame for annulment can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific case, but it can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more.


Annulment is a legal process that allows a marriage to be declared void or never existed. It is different from divorce, which ends a valid marriage. 

Understanding the laws in your state and gathering the necessary documents and evidence is essential. It’s also highly recommended to seek the advice of a lawyer to help you understand the process and represent you in court.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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