Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a divorce and an annulment? The term “annulment” is sometimes used to refer to a marriage being annulled by a church or religious authority. However, an annulment has a very specific meaning from a legal standpoint.
A judgment of nullity under California law is commonly called an “annulment”. Whereas a divorce represents the end of a valid, legal marriage, a judgment of nullity, once rendered, declares that no legal marriage ever existed.
There are two categories of annulments in California, marriages that are void and those that are voidable. Void marriages are illegal and void from the beginning. Only incestuous and bigamous marriages fall into this narrow category. Incestuous marriage is defined by law as those between close blood relatives, including parents with children, siblings with half siblings, and uncles or aunts with nieces and nephews. First cousins are not on this list. Bigamous marriages, on the other hand, occur when one of the spouses is currently married to someone else and that marriage has never been terminated, such as by divorce, death, or annulment.
The grounds for annulment based on voidable marriage are explicitly listed in California statutes:
- Lack of capacity due to age (under 18) and no parental consent;
- Lack of capacity due to unsound mind, such as extreme intoxication or mental impairment;
- Consent to marriage obtained by fraud, such as misrepresenting the ability to have children;
- Consent to marriage obtained by force;
- Prior existing marriage, in which the party believed his or her spouse had been dead or missing for at least five years; and
- Lack of physical capacity to be married, such as male impotence, that appears to be incurable.
Marriages based on these grounds are valid unless and until a court enters a judgment of nullity. There is a significant exception, however, for the first four of these grounds: The marriage is not voidable if, after the condition passes (age, unsound mind, fraud, or force), the affected party voluntarily lives with the would-be spouse. For example, if a person marries while 16 years of age but continues to live with the spouse once she is 18, her marriage will no longer be voidable.
There may be unintended consequences to annulments. For instance, there will generally be no right to spousal support because the marriage was never valid, and there will be no presumption of community property for assets acquired during the “marriage.” If children were born, their paternity will have to be adjudicated before custody, visitation, and child support can be determined by the court.
Specific time frames apply to each of these grounds for voidable marriages, and the facts of each situation can change the outcome. If you are interested in learning more about whether your marriage may be void or voidable, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney. Judy L. Burger
has extensive experience in all family law matters in Northern California. Call her today or contact her online to learn about how California law applies to the facts of your case.