How to Respond to A Petition for an Annulment
If you have been served by your spouse with a petition for an annulment, you are likely wondering exactly what this means and how you should respond appropriately. Compared to a petition for divorce, in which you request the court to dissolve a legally valid marriage, a petition for annulment asks the court to declare that the marriage was never valid in the first place. If the court approves this position, it will completely erase your marriage from the California state record, making it virtually nonexistent in the eyes of the law.
To ensure the best possible results, hire an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through this difficult, complicated process. Contact Bickford Law today to discuss your options and ensure you have the highest quality of legal representation.
Possible Grounds for Annulment in California
Because your spouse is the one who initiated the annulment process, the burden of responsibility is on them to prove the existence of legal grounds that justify an annulment. Aside from incest and bigamy, which are always legal grounds for annulment, there are other various grounds for annulment your spouse may be claiming, including:
- Fraud – Lies or misrepresentation that resulted in your spouse agreeing to marry you when they otherwise would not have without this deception.
- Forced consent – You forced or threatened your spouse into getting married and only were able to secure their consent under duress.
- Age – Your spouse was not of legal age (18 years old) when you got married.
- Unsound mind – Your spouse was suffering from a mental condition that made it impossible for them to provide informed consent. This includes serious mental illnesses like dementia, as well as being severely intoxicated from drugs or alcohol.
- Physical incapacity – You possess a physical incapacity that prevents you from producing children, such as erectile dysfunction or a hysterectomy.
- Pre-existing marriage – You were already married to someone else when you signed the marriage contract with your spouse.
Remember that your spouse carries the responsibility for providing the court with convincing evidence of these claims in order to gain approval for an annulment. These grounds must have been present at the time the marriage was contracted. If such circumstances were later removed or properly disclosed to the spouse seeking an annulment, and the spouse continued living with the other party as a married couple, this may no longer be considered grounds for annulment. If the court grants approval for the annulment, unlike in a divorce, your spouse is prevented from seeking spousal support, from being included in the division of property that belonged to you before the marriage, and from serving as a beneficiary in survivorship benefits.
Step One. Read the Court Forms
The first thing you should do if you are served with court forms petitioning for annulment is thoroughly, carefully read every line of these forms, so you know what to expect. In the Petition, your spouse, the petitioner, will describe your marriage, present grounds for requesting an annulment, and explain what they are asking the court to order. The Summons provides critical information about the court process and your rights, as well as including standard restraining orders that restrict what you are able to do with your property and other assets and prevent you from moving out of state with your children.
Step Two. Fill Out the Court Forms
There are several forms you must complete and submit after being served. Make two copies of everything you fill out to ensure you and your spouse have access to them after the originals are submitted to the court. The Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership form (Form FL-120) includes the same guidelines as those used in divorce proceedings, so make sure you are checking the boxes correlated with annulments. You must choose the correct boxes based on your position in this case, and what you write can be extremely significant in affecting whether the petition is approved. You must file the Response with 30 days of being served with the petition for annulment. Sometimes a spouse may be willing to allow a longer period of time, but make sure you have your spouse put the terms of this extension down in writing and sign it.
The Declaration and Attached Declaration forms allow you the opportunity to explain why you either support or contest your spouse’s grounds for annulment and why you think you should or should not be granted an annulment by the court. Review the Declaration completed by your spouse to ensure you cover the circumstances they describe from your perspective and provide the court with a complete picture of your marriage. If you share children with your spouse, you should also fill out Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). If you are responding to an annulment petition filed by your partner, the court must establish the paternity of the children before issuing any orders concerning custody, child support, or visitation rights.
Step Three. File Court Forms
File your court forms with the court clerk within 30 days of being served, along with the appropriate filing fee. Turn in both sets of copies as well as the originals. The court clerk will keep the original forms, then stamp the copies with “Filed” before returning them to you.
Step Four. Serve Court Forms to Your Spouse
Serve a copy of your completed Response form, as well as copies of other forms you filled out and submitted to the court clerk. You do this by appointing someone to act as a “server” and deliver your court forms either in person by hand or through the mail with Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt that must be completed to prove they received them.
Step Five. File a Proof of Service
Your server must fill out a form that proves they served your spouse with the court forms, either a Proof of Personal Service if they served your spouse in person or a Proof of Service by Mail if the paperwork was delivered by mail. After they complete this form, submit it to the court clerk.
Step Six. Attend the Court Hearing
The final step in responding to a spouse’s petition for annulment is to attend the court hearing they schedule to be seen before a judge. Your spouse is responsible for scheduling this hearing and must provide you with a copy of the forms so you know where you have to go and on what date. During the hearing, your spouse will describe why they feel an annulment is the appropriate method for dissolving your marriage. Then, you will be given the chance to explain the situation from your point of view and express to the judge what you think the court should do. A lawyer will help you adequately prepare for this hearing and ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Why You Need a Lawyer to Respond to an Annulment Petition
Because these guidelines are basic and cannot possibly include the specific details of your unique situation, it is necessary to hire an experienced family law attorney for assistance in properly completing the steps in accordance with California law. The annulment process is complicated, lengthy, and requires in-depth knowledge of the law that most non-lawyers simply do not possess. Contact the experienced team at Bickford Family Law for help throughout every step of this process. Contact us to schedule your consultation.
Feel Free to Contact Our Office with Any Questions