Two legal methods dissolve a marriage: divorce and annulment. An annulment differs from a divorce in that when a couple annuls a marriage, the marriage never happened.
Grounds for an annulment vary by jurisdiction, but they may include: concealment, fraud, inability (or refusal) to engage in sexual relations or serious misunderstanding.
In California, a marriage is never considered legal if it is bigamous, with one partner already being married to someone else, or incestuous, when the parties are close blood relatives.
A case of concealment may involve a spouse hiding a prior criminal record, a drug addiction or a sexually transmitted disease. Fraud could involve misrepresenting an unmarried status or failing to disclose an inability to have children. Misunderstanding may revolve around each person’s idea of a lifestyle or the desire to have children.
The most famous contemporary example of an annulment is the January 4, 2004 marriage of Britney Spears to Jason Alexander in Las Vegas, Nevada. Spears filed for annulment on January 5, 2014, citing a lack of understanding of her actions — the couple did not know what one other liked, whether they wanted children or where they wanted to live. Spears and Alexander were granted an annulment within two hours, with the court stating that their marriage was not legally valid.
In California, obtaining an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married or in a domestic partnership. Filing for an annulment does, however, have a deadline that depends on the reason why you filed. If you miss it, further action is barred.
After an annulment, the former members of the relationship may not have other rights/obligations that divorced or legally separating couples may have. For example, if you have children and get an annulment, the court legally presumes that they do not exist. A judge must establish paternity. Then, the judge may make orders relating to visitation, custody and child support.
Annulments also affect community property laws in California. Those laws may not be used to divide debt or property accumulated while married or in a domestic partnership. The couple does not have the right to spousal or partner support or the right to receive any other benefits.
There is an exception to this situation: the putative spouse doctrine. The doctrine applies to a partner who reasonably believes the parties are married. There must be evidence offered to the court showing a belief that the usual formalities were completed. An example would be if the papers for a registered domestic partnership (RDP) were completed, but not mailed.
In California, an annulment may be referred to as a nullity of domestic partnership or nullity of marriage. Other marriages or domestic partnerships may be nullified if a filing party is under the age of 18 years old, if either spouse is already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership, if either party is of unsound mind, if either spouse married/registered due to fraud, if one of the parties agreed to marry as a result of force, or if one party to a union was physically incapable of consummating the marriage and that disability is deemed permanent.
Each reason for annulment requires those requesting such legal relief to prove the details involved in their request. In other words, it must be proven to the court that at least one of the possible reasons for filing for an annulment is true. Proving that at least one reason for requesting an annulment may be difficult. For this reason, it is wise to consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Gerald A. Maggio is an experienced Orange County divorce attorney and family law attorney located in Irvine, California, serving the Orange County and Riverside areas. Mr. Maggio assists clients with legal issues including divorce, legal separation, divorce mediation, child custody, prenuptial agreements, stepparent adoptions, and other family law issues. Mr. Maggio has practiced law in California since 1999, and founded The Maggio Law Firm in 2005, focusing exclusively on divorce and family law matters.