An annulment is a way of ending a marriage, similar to a divorce. However, unlike a divorce where you must wait up to one year before you can apply, you can apply for an annulment at any time after the wedding. It is important to note that if you apply for an annulment many years after the wedding, you may be asked to explain why there has been a delay in applying. If you are considering annulling your marriage, it is important that you understand the grounds for annulment, the cost and what the process involves before making a decision. A legal advisor can help you with this process.
In order to apply for an annulment, you or your spouse must have either:
• Lived in Utah for at least one year
• Held a permanent residence in Utah for at least six months
Some people may seek an annulment if there are religious reasons why they cannot or do not want to apply for divorce. However, you must show that the marriage was either not valid (void) or defective (voidable) for one of the reasons below.
A ‘void’ marriage is a marriage that is considered to have never been legally valid in the first place because:
• You and your partner are closely related
• One or both of you were under 16
• One of you was already married or in a civil partnership
In these cases, the law says that the marriage never existed so there is no need to apply for a formal decree to annul it. However, you or your partner may wish to seek official documents in order to obtain things like a financial order or to remarry in the future.
If your marriage was ‘defective’ it is considered ‘voidable’ if:
• It was not consummated
• You did not consent to the marriage (e.g. you were forced into it or you were intoxicated)
• The other person had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the marriage
• The woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage
Getting An Annulment
In order to annul a marriage, you must fill in a nullity petition form, which you can do at any time after the marriage. You must also fill in an accompanying statement confirming that what you have said in your nullity petition is true. A solicitor will be able to assist you with these forms. Then two copies will need to be sent to your nearest divorce court for consideration and one copy should be kept for yourself. Once the petition has been filed, your spouse must respond within eight days, either accepting or disputing the annulment. If they accept the annulment, then you can apply for a ‘decree nisi’ which is an official document that confirms that the court does not see any reason why the marriage cannot be annulled. If they dispute the petition, then you may need to attend court to make your case to a judge. Six weeks after receiving the decree nisi, you can apply for a decree absolute, sometimes called a ‘decree of nullity’. This is the final legal document that says your marriage has been annulled and will be needed should you wish to remarry in the future. The whole annulment process can take around six to eight months if it is uncontested. Contested cases may take longer and will require expert legal advice. It may be useful to seek mediation to avoid any lengthy and costly court disputes.
Legal Difference Between Annulment and Divorce
A divorce, or legal dissolution of a marriage, is the ending of a valid marriage, returning both parties to single status with the ability to remarry. While each individual state has its own laws regarding grounds for marriage annulment or divorce, certain requirements apply nationwide. An annulment case can be initiated by either party in a marriage. The party initiating the annulment must prove that he or she has the grounds to do so and if it can be proven, the marriage will be considered null and void by the court. The following is a list of common grounds for annulment and a short explanation of each point:
• Bigamy – either party was already married to another person at the time of the marriage
• Forced Consent – one of the spouses was forced or threatened into marriage and only entered into it under duress
• Fraud – one of the spouses agreed to the marriage based on the lies or misrepresentation of the other
• Marriage Prohibited By Law – marriage between parties that based on their familial relationship is considered incestuous
• Mental Illness – either spouse was mentally ill or emotionally disturbed at the time of the marriage
• Mental Incapacity – either spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the marriage and was unable to make informed consent
• Inability to Consummate Marriage – either spouse was physically incapable of having sexual relations or impotent during the marriage
• Underage Marriage – either spouse was too young to enter into marriage without parental consent or court approval.
Depending on your state of residence, a divorce can be much more complicated than an annulment. Like annulment cases, each state has its own set of laws regarding divorce. In most divorce cases, marital assets are divided and debts are settled. If the marriage has produced children, a divorce proceeding determines custody of the children, visitation rights and spousal and child support issues. Each state can have either a no-fault divorce or a fault divorce. A no-fault divorce allows the dissolution of a legal marriage with neither spouse being named the “guilty party” or the cause for the marital break-up. Many states now offer the “no-fault” divorce option, a dissolution of a legal marriage in which neither party accepts blame for the marital break-up. In the absence of a “guilty party,” some states require a waiting period of a legal separation before a no-fault divorce can take place. For this reason, in addition to cases where one spouse wishes to assign blame, some parties seek to expedite the legal process by pursuing a traditional, “fault” divorce. A “fault” divorce is only granted when one spouse can prove adequate grounds. Like an annulment, these grounds vary from state to state, however, there are some overarching commonalities. These guidelines often include addition to drugs, alcohol or gambling, incurable mental illness, and conviction of a crime. The major grounds for divorce that apply in every state are listed below:
• Adultery – one or both spouses engages in extramarital relationships with others during the marriage
• Desertion – one spouse abandons the other, physically and emotionally, for a lengthy period of time
• Physical/Emotional Abuse – one spouse subjects the other to physical or violent attacks or emotional or psychological abuse such as abusive language, and threats of physical violence.
Your state law and particular situation will determine whether or not your annulment or divorce will be simple or complex. Familiarizing yourself with the laws for your particular state is the best way to learn what your rights are in the case of a marital dissolution and help you determine whether an annulment vs. divorce is right for you.
How Do I Qualify for an Annulment?
Unlike divorce, you cannot simply state “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for an annulment. You must prove a specific legal reason to be granted an annulment, and being married or in a registered domestic partnership for a short period of time is not a sufficient legal reason.
Misrepresentation or Fraud
One common reason for annulment is where there is a misrepresentation or fraud made by one party to another prior to the marriage. The most common misrepresentation is age: if one party claimed to be of a certain age, but was in fact younger, then the marriage would not be valid. Parentage may also be used to challenge the validity of the marriage. If a pregnant woman convinces a man to marry her under the assumption that the child belongs to the man, but it is later proven that the husband is not the father, then that false representation may be used to annul the marriage (note that this is based on a few state cases – not all states follow this precedent).
Legal Issues Addressed in an Annulment of Marriage
Like a divorce or a separation, there may be various issues that are addressed during an annulment of marriage. These can include:
• Division of assets and property between the partners
• Issues regarding child custody and visitation
• Name changes and other formalities
However, many annulments happen within a short time after marriage, sometimes within a year or a few months. Thus, in some cases the couple may not actually have any issues with joint property because they have not been together for very long. Each case will be different from the next.
What Other Options Do I Have Besides Annulment?
As mentioned, a marriage can be terminated through divorce or through a legal dissolution of marriage. If the couple needs a temporary “break,” they may wish to consider an option such as legal separation. Uncontested divorce may also be an option if both parties consent to the process and are willing to work with one another regarding the various legal issues involved.
Eligibility for an Annulment
A couple must meet the following requirements to qualify for an annulment:
• The marriage was forced on one or both of the spouses.
• One or both of the spouses were unable to make a clear decision because of the consumption of alcohol, drug use, or mental disability.
• One or both of the spouses were already married at the time of the wedding or the relationship was incestuous.
• The spouse(s) was underage at the time of the marriage.
• Either spouse was impotent at the time of the marriage.
• Information was withheld from either spouse such as children from a previous marriage, an unwillingness to have children, legal/criminal problems.
Benefits of an Annulment
There are various benefits of an annulment that extend past religious acceptance.
• Avoiding financial support: One of the typical requirements of a divorce is one spouse providing the other with financial support. This is often unavoidable, especially when one spouse works and the other does not. These payments can include child support, alimony, or spousal support. Those who decide to have their marriage annulled will no longer be required to help their former spouse financially since the marriage no longer exists in the eyes of the court.
• Debt is determined and divided: Most couples will accumulate some form of debt throughout their marriage. In the case of an annulment, this debt is divided equally between both parties. Any debt that was incurred before the marriage is given back to the spouse that accumulated it.
• Assets assignments: Property assets are typically split in half during divorce proceedings, but annulments are different. The property is given back to the party who originally purchased it.
Do I need a lawyer to file the paperwork for an annulment?
A legal annulment differs from a divorce in a very basic way. A legal annulment is a court decree that determines a marriage invalid from it’s inception. On the other hand, a divorce terminates a lawfully existing marriage. A legal annulment is a more complex legal process than most people realize. For this reason, if you desire a legal annulment, you need to seriously consider retaining the services of an experienced attorney to assist you with your case.
Annulment Not Favored
A legal annulment is not favored by public policy in Utah. There is a preference for courts to terminate marriages via divorce decrees or deal with marriage-related issues through legal separation proceedings. Annulling a marriage typically is permitted in rare situations. Case abound in which a person files for annulment only to have a court deny the request. These leaves a person with three options: remain in the marriage, seek a divorce, or seek a legal separation. As an aside, not all states permit legal separation.
Grounds for Annulment
The grounds for which the annulment of a marriage can be sought are limited. The laws do vary somewhat from one state to another. However, the underlying reasons for which a person can seek an annulment are generally the same across the country. The grounds for which a person can seek an annulment include incapacity at the time of the alleged wedding. In other words, one or both spouses were underage or mentally incapacitated at the time of the wedding. If a spouse legally is married to another person at the time of a second marriage, an annulment would be possible. Finally, grounds upon which a marriage can be annulled is if a person married a prohibited family member. For example, if first cousins wed, that marriage could be subject to annulment. All of the grounds for annulment have one factor in common. In each of these situations, a person was legally incapable of entering into a valid marriage. Therefore, the marriage was never valid. Keep in mind that state laws include certain time requirements for filing an annulment. If the time period expires, a person may be barred from pursuing a divorce and may be left seeking a divorce or legal separation.
Secular Vs. Religious Annulment
A person interested in having a marriage civilly annulled needs to understand the distinction between secular or legal annulment and the religious derivation. Civil or legal annulment is an action by the state declaring that a marriage was invalid at the time of its inception. If a marriage is legally or civilly declared invalid, the sacramental marriage status in certain churches is unchanged. Similarly, if a sacramental marriage is annulled by a church, that determination has no impact on the civil marriage. Two separate proceedings would be necessary to civilly and sacramentally annul a marriage. Three Christian churches utilize annulment to declare a sacramental marriage invalid. They are the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the Methodist Church. They each have their own procedures for obtaining a sacramental declaration of annulment in regard to a marriage.
Preparing Annulment Paperwork
The paperwork necessary to proceed with an annulment case must be precise. It must specifically set forth why the marriage was never valid in the first instance. The documentation must fully comply with the specific requirements of the annulment statute in your state. The failure to properly complete court documents needed in an annulment case can result in the doors to the court being slammed on a petitioner. The necessity to exactly prepare the necessary paperwork underscores the need for proper legal representation. Annulment court proceedings are also complicated. An attorney is in the best position to properly navigate an annulment case through court.
Retain an Annulment Lawyer Today
An annulment lawyer will schedule an initial consultation with you to discuss your case. During this appointment, a lawyer will evaluate your situation and advise whether or not an annulment is possible in your case. Legal counsel will also provide answers to your questions. He or she will also discuss all of your options regarding your marriage. As a general rule, an annulment lawyer will not charge a fee for this initial appointment to discuss your case.
Why Would I Apply For A Nullity?
The granting of an annulment makes a marriage null and void. Once an annulment has been granted, it is as if the marriage never existed. You would be free to marry another person. The circumstances that apply for you to be entitled to an annulment are limited and explored below.
One key difference between annulments and divorce is that you can apply for an annulment at any time after the marriage takes place rather than have to wait a year as you do with to apply for a divorce. Difficulties can arise if you apply to annul a marriage a long time after the marriage but if you think this may be a concern you should seek advice particular to your situation from a specialist family lawyer.
Meet With An Annulment Lawyer
When you need an annulment in Utah, please call the annulment attorneys at Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506