A court decree annulling a marriage means that the marriage never existed. In South Carolina, the legal requirements to obtain a marriage annulment are strictly limited to situations where the couple fails to consummate the marriage and live together. So long as these requirements are met, there is no statute of limitations on filing for an annulment.
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Significance of Annulments
Although divorces seem commonplace today, for much of U.S. history divorces were very difficult to obtain if not prohibited. The state of South Carolina did not enact any laws providing for divorce until 1942. Therefore, annulments were an alternative for persons wanting to get out of an undesirable marriage. Also, unlike divorce, a court decree annulling a marriage means that a valid marriage never existed--thereby making an annulment preferable to a person who wants to avoid the social stigma of being divorced. An annulment may also make remarriage easier for persons belonging to a church that prohibits remarriage after divorce.
Grounds for Annulment
In South Carolina, the statutory grounds for an annulment are very limited. South Carolina Code Laws Section 20-1-530 states that a court can declare a marriage invalid if the marriage "has not been consummated by the cohabitation of the parties." In practical terms this means that an annulment will only be granted if the married couple did not have sexual relations and did not continue to live together, despite having gone through a marriage ceremony. One honeymoon night or a short time living together would seem to preclude an annulment in South Carolina.
Time Frame to File
South Carolina law does not specify any time limits for obtaining an annulment--that is, there is no statute of limitations on annulment. The reason for this is that the marriage is invalid and the passage of time will not confer validity.
South Carolina prohibits marriages in a variety of circumstances. Same-sex marriages are prohibited along with marriages between close relatives involving siblings, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, as well as uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. Bigamous marriages and marriage involving mentally incompetent persons are also prohibited.
Grounds for Divorce
To obtain a divorce in South Carolina, a spouse must prove the other spouse was at-fault for the breakdown of the marriage in one of five ways: adultery, desertion for a period of one year, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness or drug use, or that the couple has not lived as husband and wife for one year. If the court believes that the couple in a divorce proceeding colluded for the purpose of obtaining a divorce, the court can refuse to grant the divorce.