You may have heard of something called an annulment but not be sure what it means. Although an annulment does end a marriage, it is not the same thing as a divorce. An annulment, or “nullity of marriage,” is only granted in the limited circumstances in which the marriage itself was not legally valid to begin with.
There are many legal requirements for a valid marriage, and violation of any of these requirements can make the marriage either void or voidable. A void marriage is one which was never legally valid. If a marriage is voidable, on the other hand, this means that the couple are eligible to have the marriage declared invalid and obtain an annulment if they want to, but they don’t have to.
A marriage is void and therefore never legally valid if it is either incestuous or bigamous. An incestuous marriage is one in which the couple are related by blood to a closer degree than the law allows. Bigamy occurs when one spouse is already married to another when entering into the void marriage, with certain exceptions.
The grounds for annulment of a voidable marriage are somewhat more numerous. They include marriages where the party filing for annulment was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage, if one of the parties was physically incapacitated or mentally unsound, or if the marriage was the product of force or fraud by one of the parties. These marriages can be valid unless one party moves to have it declared invalid through an annulment.
During the annulment proceeding, either one or both of the parties to the marriage may be declared by the court to be a putative spouse. A putative spouse is someone who believed in good faith that the marriage was valid. In the event that one or both of the spouses is/are declared to be putative, the court has authority to decide on issues such as:
- Division of Property – Quasi-marital property is treated as if it were marital property, and the community property is divided equally between the parties by the court
- Child Custody – The court follows California law regarding custody of the children in a divorce
- Spousal Maintenance (Spousal Support/Alimony) – The court may order one party to pay support to the other if the receiving party has the status of a putative spouse
- Attorney’s Fees and Costs – These may be granted by the court in certain instances
Can a domestic partnership be annulled? Yes. A “nullity of domestic partnership” can be declared in the instance that the domestic partnership is not legally valid. The same grounds which can make a marriage void or voidable apply to domestic partnerships as well.