It is often wrongly assumed that if you wake up the day after you get married and realize that you’ve made a terrible mistake, you can get an annulment. In reality, annulments have nothing to do with either the duration of your marriage or changes of heart. They’re a legal way of erasing a union that could not or should not have existed in the first place. Procedurally, an annulment is almost identical to a divorce. The difference is that divorce terminates a marriage–the marriage existed, but it’s over. An annulment is a legal declaration that the marriage never occurred.
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Just as with a divorce, you need grounds for an annulment. While grounds can vary somewhat from state to state, they all address the idea that either the marriage was illegal, or it was entered into under some circumstance that makes it not viable. For instance, if you’re heavily under the influence of drugs or alcohol or you’re mentally ill when you say “I do," you’re not thinking clearly and probably don’t understand what you’re doing. If your spouse withheld knowledge from you that would have influenced your decision to marry him, such as the fact that he had a criminal record or is sterile, this is considered grounds for annulment, too. If you were threatened or coerced into agreeing to the marriage, this provides grounds as long as you can prove it.
Meet Residency Requirements
You have to meet the same residency requirements in your state for an annulment as you would for a divorce.
Some marriages are against a state’s laws, such as unions between blood relatives, or between children who are younger than the age of consent and who got married without the permission of either their parents or the court. Bigamy is a crime, so if your spouse was already married when he married you, your marriage couldn’t have existed. These are examples of what are called void marriages. Some states do not require an annulment to nullify them since they had no legal standing to start with, but most do.
Requirements With Regard to Children
It is not impossible to get an annulment if you’ve conceived children together. The existence of children doesn’t change your grounds or the reason your marriage can’t exist. As a practical matter, however, most judges are reluctant to grant an annulment when children are involved, and this may make your burden of proof a little heavier.
Some states require that you stop living together as husband and wife as soon as you discover the grounds for annulment, especially in instances of deception or fraud. Once you learn that you’ve been duped, for instance, you should end your cohabitation or some courts might consider that the truth had no appreciable impact on the marriage.
It is possible to be awarded an annulment through your religion, but these annulments have no legal standing. Particularly in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, where a divorce can result in excommunication, a religious annulment simply means that your marriage never existed within the confines of your faith. These annulments also have some rigorous requirements, but they tend to be more subjective than the fact-based criteria for a legal annulment.