What is an Annulment?

An annulment is a process that terminates a marriage. So does a divorce, of course. However, the difference is that if a court permits an annulment, not only is the marriage over after court orders, it acts like it never existed as well. Essentially, the court is announcing that the marriage shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

An annulment has the effect of presenting a marriage void on a legal basis. It authenticates that marital status never happened. Annulments differ from divorces in that while a divorce ends the marriage as of the time of the entrance of the divorce decision, an annulment declares the marriage void from the first place.

Legal Reasons for an Annulment

In order to get an annulment judgment, a marriage must either be “voidable” or “void”. A void marriage is not valid on its face because it’s existed as an illegal act. Typical examples are marriages involving incest or bigamy. Bigamy is illegal if you get married someone while you’re already married. States have laws against bigamy and incest where close relatives are marrying each other.

On the other hand, a marriage that’s avoidable can exist legitimately. In this situation, having a legal basis for an annulment doesn’t automatically end the marriage. One of the partners needs to file an annulment action with the court, in order to get the marriage terminated.

Some general grounds for annulling avoidable relationship are:

  • A partner was under pressure at the time of the marriage.
  • Either of the partners didn’t have the mental ability to consent to the marriage.
  • Marriage happens fraudulently.
  • A partner was under the legal age to marry.

The Legal Effects of an Annulment

In some instances, particularly where the marriage was very low, spouses can walk away simply from each other when a court permits an annulment. But it’s more difficult when the married partners have children or property together.

If the marriage is annulled, it doesn’t indicate that the court can’t interfere with issues such as child support, custody, spousal support (alimony), visitation (parenting time), and division of property. A particular state’s laws will establish which of these matters its courts can approach during an annulment.

Property Distribution

If a married couple has acquired property during their marriage time, they may wish the annulment judge to determine how to share it between them. Some states permit their judges to assist couples in property division matters, others don’t.

If your state doesn’t allow property distribution in an annulment case, then the claim to the property will pass according to the property ownership laws in that state.

Normally, courts acknowledge the following areas for granting an annulment: bigamy, improper relationship, impotency, under age without proper authorization, duress, fraud, or incompetence, and undue influence. And the burden of proof usually rests upon the party who is seeking the annulment’s judgment in order to prove the ground(s) necessary to annul the relationship, and this must be determined by the evidence.

If a married couple is separated and there is no premarital agreement, property settlement agreement, or separation agreement exists, any spouse may take an action for property division during the time of separation. Property obtained prior to the marriage will remain the separate property of that partner, and property obtained during the marriage will be distributed according to what the court decides to be just and reasonable under the circumstances.

However, once an order for annulment is listed, then the marriage will be considered as void from the beginning and there is no marital property to be divided. The annulment ends any rights that a partner may have obtained in the other spouse’s property while married. Any real property held collectively would become a tenancy in common, with each spouse owning an undivided one-half profit in the entire property that may be considered to be separated. Further, any personal or real property titled solely in the name of one partner becomes the separate property of that partner following the annulment order.

What Effect Does Annulment Have on Property?

Generally, an annulment has the impact of returning the parties to the original property status that existed before the marriage. Thus, if one of the partners owned a home before getting married, they will still own the home in full after the annulment order. The other partner will have no legal rights to the home because legally it is as if the marriage never happened.

An annulment ends any legal protections that were available to either partner during the marriage. After the annulment order, neither partner will be able to share or deal in any of the other’s property. In addition, they will not be able to inherit anything from the other spouse upon death since they will not be considered as a spouse under the laws of inheritance.

Annulments are usually awarded a short time after the marriage happening, so it becomes easy for a court to decide who owns what. In such a case, a court will do whatever is possible to return the parties to those positions they held before the marriage

Under particular circumstances, many states do offer debts and division of property, especially if the partner has been married for decades or several years. In these situations, the property division will be done according to the manners of the divorce laws of that jurisdiction or a particular state.

Some Additional Points

In the cases of voidable marriages it’s essential to know that, in many cases, partners seeking an annulment order must not have approved of the marriage after they found the circumstances that could cause the marriage invalid. If they did ratify it, it’s almost certain the court won’t award the annulment.

Note that once a marriage is annulled or in case of divorce as well, you lose rights of inheritance you may have had as a married partner. Lastly, it’s also vital to note that your right to ask an annulment judgment may be subject to time restrictions.

This issue can vary from state to state according to governing law.

Property division in annulment cases can be considerably complex and confused, especially for someone who is unfamiliar with the laws. Consider seeking direction from an experienced divorce lawyer in your area.

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