Annulment Requirements in California

By Cindy Chung

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In California, a court-approved annulment invalidates a marriage as if the two spouses had not married each other. Some couples would like to avoid divorce or legal separation by choosing annulment. While the state does set timing requirements, California law does not impose a minimum or maximum duration for the marriage to determine eligibility for an annulment. State laws establish several steps a spouse must complete before a California superior court may grant an annulment.

Grounds for Annulment

California marriage and divorce laws establish the grounds for annulment available to spouses. The party seeking an annulment must prove at least one of the grounds before a California court can grant the annulment. State laws automatically establish a marriage as invalid if it is bigamous, involving at least one spouse who was already married to someone else; or incestuous, involving siblings or other close blood relatives. California law also allows for an annulment if a spouse can prove the marriage resulted from fraud or force. In addition, if one of the spouses had an unsound mind or was under age 18 at the time of the marriage, the court may also grant the annulment. Lastly, a spouse may be able to obtain an annulment based on the other spouse's incurable physical incapacity.

Timing Requirements

The grounds for the annulment often determine the timing requirements for an annulment filing in California. State laws set a statute of limitations — a specified time period during which the party requesting an annulment must file paperwork to start the legal proceedings — for each of the grounds for annulment. For example, the statute of limitations for an annulment based on an underage spouse sets the timing requirement at four years after the date when the underage spouse turns 18. If the statute of limitations has already expired, annulment is likely no longer an option and the spouses must get a divorce or legal separation to end their marriage.

Annulment Paperwork

California courts use the same set of court forms for annulment, divorce and legal separation. The person filing for the annulment must check the appropriate boxes to identify the type of case. In general, annulment paperwork includes a petition and a summons. The annulment paperwork must also include a declaration that states the grounds for annulment and explains why the court should grant the petition. If the spouses have children together, the courts require additional forms.

Notice to the Other Spouse

The other spouse must receive a copy of the completed, filed paperwork using one of the methods accepted by California law: personal delivery by a non-party adult or service by mail with the other spouse's written acknowledgment of receipt.

Court Hearing

A California annulment case generally requires a court hearing where the two spouses meet with the judge assigned to the case. The court hearing cannot take place until at least 30 days after the other party received the annulment papers. During the 30-day period, the other spouse has an opportunity to file response papers. At the scheduled court hearing, the judge may grant the annulment and issue court orders regarding the legal issues related to ending a marriage, including spousal support, child custody, child visitation or property rights, even if the other spouse declines to take part in the process.