Everything You Need to Know About Annulments
Although they happen often, annulments are often misunderstood. Media and popular culture promote a number of diverse yet equally inaccurate representations of this process, making it difficult for most people to recognize the truth of this legal concept. If you are unsatisfied with your relationship or discover new information that drastically impacts the validity of your marriage, call our firm. California law allows you to receive an annulment if you follow a certain legal process and meet specific criteria.
How Is an Annulment Different from a Divorce?
If you are considering initiating the end of your marriage, you have two options for doing so: divorce and annulment. Both of these legal proceedings make official determinations regarding your marital status, but they work in different ways and involve their own sets of guidelines and requirements. Because distinct differences exist between these options, they offer various benefits for different situations. To make the right decision for your marriage, it is necessary to understand how divorce and annulment are different, as well as how they each lead to different results.
When you petition for a divorce, also referred to as a dissolution of marriage, you are asking the court to officially conclude a legally valid marriage. When you petition for an annulment, you are asking the court to cancel a marriage by declaring it was never legally valid from the beginning. Annulment proceedings can be started by either party, but the person who initiates it is responsible for proving that legal grounds exist for the annulment. If the court approves your petition, according to the law, it will be like your marriage never technically existed.
How Will an Annulment Affect My Children?
Choosing an annulment instead of divorce comes with its own set of consequences for paternity, spousal support, and division of property. Usually, because a marriage that has been annulled has no legal validity, the law considers that any children resulting from this relationship to be born to single parents. This means paternity must be established before custody, child support, or visitations agreements are decided. However, California law does feature what is known as presumptions of paternity. This means children from an annulled marriage are presumed to belong to the established father, even if the marriage was declared legally invalid.
Am I Eligible for Spousal Support or Property Transfer?
Because an annulment essentially erases the marriage’s existence, courts do not hold the authority to order spousal support, decide on distribution of property, or make rulings concerning debt settlement. In other words, if there was never a marriage, there was also never a marital estate to be managed. This means couples in California undergoing the annulment process are required to separate their property from that of their previous spouse, including any outstanding debts as well as assets. Neither party is entitled to request spousal support from the other or inclusion in survivorship benefits, such as an inheritance or trust.
What Is Considered Grounds for an Annulment in California?
To successfully petition for an annulment in California, you bear the legal responsibility for proving that legal grounds, or reasons, exist for the annulment. Some of the grounds that a judge might consider valid for approving your annulment include the following:
- Fraud: This is defined as perpetrating fraud in the pursuit of obtaining the other party’s consent to marriage by lying, misrepresentation, or fraud to deceive the state of California into considering the grounds for the marriage to be legitimate. An example of the first type of fraud would be hiding the physical inability to produce children, while the second type of fraud includes situations like marrying someone so they can receive a green card that allows them to permanently live and work in the US. To be considered legal grounds for annulment, the fraud that was committed must extend to the very “essence” of the marriage.
- Forced Consent: Forcing someone to enter into a marriage against their will or threatening them, so they only agree to the marriage under duress comprises legal grounds for an annulment in California.
- Age: Both parties are required to be at least 18 years old at the time they become legally married. If one of the parties was not of legal age at the time of the marriage and did not receive permission from their parents or the court, they are not considered to possess the legal capacity required to consent to marriage.
- Unsound Mind: To claim an unsound mind as grounds for annulment, you must be experiencing temporary or permanent mental conditions or illnesses that prevent you from fully understanding the marriage you consented to and recognizing the responsibilities inherent in this commitment. This includes a range of circumstances, from serious, long-lasting mental illnesses like dementia to less severe, more transitory conditions such as excessive intoxication from alcohol or drugs. If a party is mentally ill or under the influence of intoxicating substances when they agree to marriage, this is informed consent and is grounds for seeking an annulment.
- Physical Incapacity: This refers to the physical inability of one party to consummate the relationship, and this inability must be persistent and considered to be incurable. Male impotence or an undisclosed hysterectomy are examples of physical incapacity that would be grounds for an annulment.
- Pre-existing Marriage: If you find out that your spouse is already married to someone else, you must petition for an annulment. This occurs most often when one party was married previously during their life but has been estranged from them or believes they are deceased. Exceptions to this apply if the spouse from the previous marriage was not known to be living for a minimum of 5 years immediately prior to the date that the second marriage was arranged.
- Incest: If you discover that you are related to your spouse by blood, you must petition the court for an annulment immediately. This includes relationships between siblings, half-siblings, parents and children, uncles or aunts and nieces or nephews, grandparents and grandchildren, and great-grandparents and great-grandchildren. California incest law is significantly more lenient than other states and does not include relationships between first cousins, stepparents and stepchildren, or adopted siblings. Even if both parties consent, an incestuous marriage is never legal under any of these circumstances and is considered a felony offense.
Why Do I Need to Hire an Attorney?
If you feel that you can prove one of the reasons listed above as legal grounds for an annulment, you must closely adhere to California law throughout this process. The best way to make sure you meet the criteria and follow all of the requirements to be successful in your petition for an annulment is to hire the service of the expert team of California family law attorneys from Bickford Law. After considering your options, you may decide that divorce or mediation is the right option for your family, and we can help you with that, too.
Contact us today by calling (858) 793-8884 or filling out the form on our website.
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