There are 3 main ways to dissolve a marriage in California: annulment, legal separation, and divorce. Either spouse can decide to end a marriage and the other spouse cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case.
An annulment or "nullity of marriage" occurs when the court determines that your marriage was NOT legally valid. Once you receive an annulment, it is as if your marriage never existed because it was never legal.
What are the legal reasons for an annulment?
A marriage is not legal when it is incestuous (the people who are married are close blood relatives) or bigamous (a spouse is already married to someone else).
Other reasons why a marriage may be declared legally invalid, include:
- The party filing for the annulment was under 18 at the time of the marriage.
- Either party was already legally married. In this case, the former spouse was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or was thought to be dead.
- Either party was of unsound mind and incapable of understanding the nature of the marriage.
- Either party was forced into the marriage.
- Either party is "physical incapacitated," meaning one of the partners is physically incapable of "consummating" the relationship and the condition appears incurable.
One of the most common reasons why people seek an annulment is because of fraud. The fraud must have been something vital to the relationship that directly affected the party who was deceived; for example, hiding the fact that one cannot have children.
In order to get an annulment, you will have to prove to the judge that at least one of the above reasons is true in your case, which makes annulment very different from a divorce or legal separation. For example, you cannot use "irreconcilable differences" as a reason to get an annulment, whereas you can use it as a reason to get a divorce.
Statute of Limitations for Annulments
A statue of limitations is a deadline for filing a lawsuit. While divorces and legal separations do not have a deadline, annulments do.
The statute of limitations for filing an annulment varies depending on the reason why you want an annulment. For example, you have four years to file for an annulment on fraud grounds, but if your partner has a prior existing marriage, an annulment can be filed at any time so long as both parties are still alive.
Contact an Orange County divorce attorney from The Law Offices of W. Douglas McKeague to learn more about annulments in California. In a free consultation, we will answer your questions and help you determine if your case qualifies for an annulment or a divorce.