The Limitations for Getting an Annulment

By Beverly Bird

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Very few couples can annul their marriages -- it's usually much simpler to divorce instead. In most states, annulment is confined to very specific grounds and deadlines – and you can't get an annulment simply because you were married for only a short period of time unless other factors exist. An annulment voids your marriage as if it never existed, and this sometimes imposes additional limitations.

Grounds for Annulment

You can't file for annulment on no-fault grounds, as you can for a divorce. You must give the court a supportable reason why your marriage should be invalidated. Although annulment rules vary by state, most jurisdictions recognize the same issues: your marriage can typically be annulled if you marry a close relative; if you're under your state's legal age of consent; or if you or your spouse is impotent or otherwise incapable of a sexual relationship. You can't just state your grounds in your petition and expect the court to grant you an annulment. You must present witnesses or evidence to substantiate what you’re alleging is true.

Some states, including California and Illinois, recognize other grounds, such as you or your spouse weren't of sound mind or didn't understand what you were doing at the time you exchanged vows. Fraud and duress are usually grounds for annulment – your spouse lied to you about some important fact or otherwise coerced or threatened you into marrying him. The burden of proof is typically on the spouse who seeks the annulment.

Statutes of Limitations

Some states impose statutes of limitations for annulments, even if you have bona fide grounds. For example, if you or your spouse was underage at the time you married, you must file for annulment within four years of turning 18 in California. If you're alleging impotence, fraud or duress in California, you must file within four years of learning the truth or realizing the issue. In some states, like Illinois, the window of time you have for some grounds is much shorter. You must file within three months of realizing that either you or your spouse didn't understand what you were doing when you married, or if you're alleging that he forced you into the marriage. Illinois gives you a year to file on grounds of impotence.

Other Limitations

North Carolina will not annul an underage marriage if a child has been born or if the wife is pregnant. California requires that if the marriage results in a child being born, you must file a separate legal action to determine parentage. Death typically ends any right the surviving spouse has to ask the court for an annulment. You might forfeit the right to alimony or property division if you elect to annul your marriage rather than seek a divorce. Family laws in some states will not order an annulment if the marriage never legally existed in the first place.

Void Marriages

Voidable marriages are those where you allege that the marriage should not have happened, whereas void marriages never existed under the law. Voidable marriages require a court order for annulment. Most states differentiate between void and voidable marriages, so if your marriage is void to begin with, annulling it may not be subject to any limitations at all. You would not have to take legal action to annul it, because it was against the law to begin with – it was never legally recognized. The most common example of this is if you or your spouse were already married to someone else at the time you exchanged vows. This is bigamy, and bigamy is illegal. Marrying a close relative usually results in a void marriage, as does marrying a same-sex partner in states that don't recognize such unions.