You may have heard that getting an annulment is an alternative to getting a divorce, but you don’t know enough about annulments to determine whether or not getting one is a viable option for you. The first thing you should know is that whereas a divorce ends your marriage, an annulment makes your marriage invalid. In other words, when you get an annulment, it’s like your marriage never happened in the first place – because legally it never did due to a serious impediment that made it impossible for a legal marriage to take place.
The second thing you should know is that unlike a divorce, which any married person can get, you must qualify to receive an annulment. Each state has its own laws regarding annulments, so your wisest course of action is to consult an experienced local divorce lawyer. He or she can tell you the annulment requirements in your state.
In general, you likely will need to prove one of more of the following:
- You are closely related to your presumptive spouse by blood.
- He or she was already legally married to someone else at the time of your presumptive marriage.
- He or she didn’t tell you a vital fact prior to your presumptive marriage, such as that he or she lacked the ability to consummate the marriage or that he or she was sterile.
- He or she forced you into the presumptive marriage.
- He or she fraudulently tricked you into the presumptive marriage.
- He or she was mentally incompetent at the time of your presumptive marriage.
- One of you was under the legal age of consent when your presumptive marriage took place.
If the judge finds that the circumstances of your presumed marriage were such that it wasn’t actually legal, he or she can proceed to issue an annulment decree. Even though such a decree means that you were never married, it does not affect the legitimacy of any children born of the relationship. The decree may therefore contain the same provisions as a divorce decree would with regard to custody, visitation and child support. It can also include provisions for the division of property.
Keep in mind that if you are a Catholic, a civil annulment does not give you the right to “remarry” in the Catholic Church. Only a religious annulment can do that. Consequently, you need to meet with your local parish priest and explain the entire situation to him. He can then help you obtain a religious annulment under canon law, again without affecting the legitimacy of your children.