Getting an Annulment: To Void or Not to Void

In California, marriages can be void or voidable. There are specific guidelines on what circumstances can qualify for an annulment.

Voidable marriages in California fit into these categories:

  1. Incestuous or polygamous relationships
  2. Under 18 without parental/legal guardian consent
  3. Missing or believed dead spouse
  4. Unsound mind at the time of marriage
  5. Consent by fraud
  6. Duress
  7. Physical incapacity to marry

A marriage can be void regardless of the “legitimacy” of the relationship. If this is the case, the marriage itself is illegitimate and unenforceable from the very beginning. Effectively, in the eyes of the law, the marriage never happened. Unless an injured spouse can prove they are a putative spouse (“putative spouse” legal framework and application to be explored in a different article), there is no recognition of the protections of marriage between the parties involved. This means aspects of divorce such as property division and spousal support, are no longer applicable to a legally void marriage. This is because legally, no valid and enforceable marriage was entered into and thus no marital protections apply.

In California, marriages that are voidable must fit a set criteria and be brought by a party asserting annulment in order to be voided. The difference between void and voidable marriages is that void marriages cannot be consented to in order to make the marriage valid. Voidable marriages may still stand as valid marriages if neither party asserts annulment and both parties consent to the precarious nature under which the marriage was agreed upon.

Reasons in California for Getting an Annulment

Marriages that are voidable have a strict statutory framework governed by California. The following factors are a valid basis for annulling a marriage:

  • Incestuous or polygamous relationships. An incestuous marriage may be between blood-relative siblings with the same biological parents. A polygamous marriage example is bigamy, which is having multiple spouses simultaneously — as if one wasn’t enough!
  • The person was under 18 years of age. The exception is if they entered into the marriage with his/her parent or guardian’s express permission.
  • Entanglement of two marriages. The first marriage is between two spouses. Then, there is a second marriage between one of those original spouses and a third person because something happened to one of the spouses in the first marriage. For those of you who have seen the movie Cast Away, it is similar to the scenario. In the movie, Tom Hanks returns home to his wife, who has remarried because everyone thought he had died. If that original first marriage occurred and one spouse (a) was absent and unknown if alive or dead for a period of five years before the second marriage, that second marriage can be annulled; or (b) if that missing spouse was believed dead at the time of the second marriage, the second marriage can be annulled.
  • Either party was of unsound mind. This means either person entering into the marriage was unable to comprehend the idea and concept of marriage when entering into the marriage, allowing for annulment. There is an exception preventing annulment if the party of unsound mind, after coming to reason, voluntarily continued living with the other as his or her spouse, defeating an annulment claim.
  • The consent of either person was obtained by fraud. Meaning that one party intentionally deceived the other party into marriage in such a way that defeats the essence of the marriage relationship. California has interpreted this to mean the fraud must directly affect the purpose of entering their marriage. Some examples include the ability to conceive children, impotence, or use of the marriage structure for immigration status. The exception is if the person whose consent was obtained by fraud voluntarily continued to live with the fraudster as his/her spouse after the discovery of the fraud.
  • The consent of either person was obtained by force. California courts have taken a strict interpretation of this. Essentially, the state requires an overwhelming and immediate threat to one’s life or others’ lives while entering into the marriage. Think “gun to the head and please sign here” type of situation. An exception prevents annulment if the party whose consent was obtained by force afterward voluntarily continues to live with their spouse.
  • Either person was physically incapable of entering into marriage. Their incapacity continues and appears to be incurable. This is a straightforward factor, where one person can never physically enter marriage. If this is the case, then any marriage containing such an individual may be annulled.

The judiciary is always hesitant to grant annulment unless there is a substantive case made. Otherwise, everyone would try to annul their marriage to circumvent spousal support and property division issues in divorce.

To void or not to void:

An annulment can quickly become a complex issue. Call us at (833) 931-1615 or click here to schedule an initial consultation for getting an annulment.

*DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice but should be construed for general informational purposes only.

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