How to File for an Annulment in Maryland
By Mary Jane Freeman
You can only file for annulment in Maryland if your marriage possesses certain defects. For example, if your spouse lied to you about being able to conceive children, if one or both of you were underage when you married, or if you were extremely intoxicated during the marriage ceremony, these issues would qualify as grounds for annulment. If your marriage involved bigamy or incest, filing for annulment may not even be necessary. You can simply walk away because such marriages are never legally valid in Maryland to begin with.
Void Vs. Voidable
Maryland distinguishes between void and voidable marriages. A void marriage is one that is invalid at its inception and is incapable of legal recognition. It doesn't require a legal annulment, but you can file a petition for annulment anyway if you want an official court order recognizing the invalidity of your marriage. In Maryland, a marriage is void in one of three circumstances: if, at the time of your marriage, either you or your spouse were still legally married to someone else, if either of you was insane or otherwise mentally incompetent, or if you and your spouse are closely related by blood. In contrast, a voidable marriage is one that can only be annulled by court order. In Maryland, such marriages are those involving fraud or duress, impotence, an underage minor, or lack of consent. When you seek an annulment, you must cite one of these reasons, known as grounds, in your annulment petition.
Petition for Annulment
If you have valid grounds, you must file a Petition for Annulment with your local circuit court to begin the annulment process. Either you or your spouse must be a resident of the state, although Maryland law does not require that you live there for a specific period of time before you can file. After filing your petition, you must forward a copy, along with the summons provided by the court, to your spouse. This is known as service of process and it gives your spouse notice of the next steps he must take. In Maryland, service is typically made by certified mail, with return receipt, or by a process server. After being served, your spouse has 30 days to respond to your petition, or 60 days if he resides out of state. After your spouse submits his answer to the court, a hearing is scheduled. If your spouse fails to answer, the matter will still proceed to a hearing.
During the hearing, you will be required to prove that your grounds for an annulment exist and you must provide corroborative witnesses who can testify to such facts. For example, in Maryland, a popular ground for annulment is fraud. Fraud occurs when one of the parties misrepresents or conceals an issue that is essential to the marital relationship, such as your spouse lying about his ability to have children. In this case, you must be able to demonstrate to the court's satisfaction that you would not have entered into the marriage if not for your spouse's lie. If your spouse contests the annulment, he might attempt to persuade the court that the opposite is true, such as by stating that you always knew he was incapable of having a family. After listening to your arguments, the court will render its decision.
Property and Support
If the court grants the annulment, your marriage will be treated as if it never happened. Unlike other states, Maryland courts divide property in an annulment and award child and spousal support. These matters will be resolved when the court grants your annulment. If the court denies your request for an annulment, you will have to file for divorce instead.
- People's Law Library of Maryland: Annulment
- Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White: Annulments Instead of a Divorce in Maryland
- Keith Blair Bartnik: Divorce in Maryland: Alternative Means of Service of Process
- Maryland Judiciary: Frequently Asked Questions
- American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers: A Comparison of the Domestic Relations Laws of Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.