This page details what an annulment is and how it compares to a divorce or dissolution of marriage. If you believe that you qualify for an annulment, should you hire an annulment attorney? Whether you’re in a long-term or short-term marriage or domestic partnership, an annulment may be an option to end your marriage or domestic partnership. It involves filing a petition to declare that the marriage or domestic partnership was void and should not have been legal. This page specifically covers the following:
- California Annulment Laws
- Two Types of Marriage Annulments
- How Does Annulment Differ from Divorce?
- Reasons that an Annulment May Be Granted
- Statute of Limitations on Getting a California Annulment
- What Happens When an Annulment is Granted?
- Hiring an Annulment Lawyer
There are cases of long-term marriages ending in an annulment, but they can get fairly complicated. You should consult with a California family attorney to determine if you should file for an annulment or a divorce. An experienced annulment attorney should be consulted as well.
California Annulment Laws
An annulment is also called “a nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership”. An annulment happens when a court declares that your marriage or domestic partnership is not legal and has never really happened. As long as you are married and living in California, you can file for an annulment here. There’s no minimum length of residency in California, like there is for divorce in California. For an annulment of a domestic partnership, you don’t even have to be living in California to file in California.
Two Types of Marriage Annulments
An annulment can be invalidated through two courts, depending on what type of annulment is being filed. There are two types of annulments that one can file for:
- Civil Annulment – This type of annulment is granted by the court. The laws for civil annulment are different from state to state.
- Religious Annulment – A religious annulment is granted by a Church Tribunal, aka a catholic church court.
On this webpage, we refer to the civil annulment as that is what the courts are allowed to grant. Religious annulments don’t necessarily require a civil annulment, but if you were married in a religious ceremony you should consult with your clergymen about the requirements of getting a religious annulment. To discover what kind of annulment is right for you, contact an annulment attorney as soon as you can.
How Does Annulment Differ from Divorce?
The end result of an annulment and a divorce is what differs, however both require the couple to go through the courts. A divorce legally ends a marriage and an annulment declares that the marriage was never legal in the first place. There are many reasons why someone would want an annulment over a divorce, including avoiding the stigma of divorce. For Catholics, to be married again in the church one needs to have his/her previous marriage nullified.
To learn more about the CA divorce laws, visit our divorce attorney page. An annulment lawyer can advise you whether or not you should file for divorce or annulment.
Reasons that an Annulment May Be Granted
As Americans, we don’t see these reasons too often but they do happen in our country. There is not need to provide proof in these situations. A marriage or domestic partnership is never legally valid in these 2 circumstances:
- Incest – when the two people involved are close blood relatives
- Bigamy – when one spouse or domestic partner is already legally married or in a registered domestic with someone else
Of course, there are other circumstances in which the marriage or domestic partnership can be declared invalid, such as these reasons according to Family Law Code § 2210:
- If the individual filing for an annulment was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership
- When either of the individuals were of “unsound mind” or not able to understand the nature of the marriage or domestic partnership, including what was expected of them
- When either party entered the marriage or domestic partnership because of fraud. The fraud must be relevant and have directly affected the relationship, somehow forcing one party into the marriage/partnership. (i.e. marrying to get a green card or hiding the inability to have children) In Re Marriage of Snowden
- When one party agreed to the marriage/domestic partnership as a result of force
- When one of the spouses/partners entered the marriage while physically incapacitated. Basically, this is another way of saying that the marriage wasn’t able to be consummated.
- When one spouse or partner was previously married or in a registered partnership. This is not the same as bigamy because the current marriage happens after the previous marriage, whereas in bigamy, the marriages happen at the same time (automatically illegal). This happens when the former spouse/partner has been absent for at least 5 years and not known to be living or not.
At it is more likely that one of these situations applies to your marriage than incest or bigamy, we highly recommend that you consult with an annulment attorney as soon as possible. He or she may advise you that an annulment is not possible in your case, so you should file for divorce or dissolution.
Statute of Limitations on Getting a California Annulment
There is a limitation to filing a petition for annulment. The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file for a lawsuit (the annulment), unlike legal separation or divorce which can be filed any time. The statute of limitations for an annulment is different than most other legal issues because it is dependent on the reason of why you want an annulment.
- Minority age at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership: Once the person filing for an annulment reaches the age of 18, he/she has 4 years to file for an annulment in California.
- Prior existing marriage or domestic partnership: If both parties of the current marriage/domestic partnership are still alive, the annulment can be filed at any time; or it can also be filed by the prior existing husband/wife/domestic partner.
- “Unsound mind”: As long as both parties of the marriage/domestic partnership are still alive, the annulment can be filed at any time. A relative or conservator of the party of unsound mind can also be the one to file for the annulment in this case (before the death of either party).
- Fraud: Only the spouse/partner who was deceived can file for an annulment with this reason. He/she will have 4 years from the date of when the fraud was discovered.
- Force: Only the spouse/partner who was forced can file for an annulment, within 4 years of getting married or registering the domestic partnership.
- Physical Incapacity: An annulment with this reason can be filed by the person that claims his/her spouse/partner is physically incapacitated, within 4 years of getting married or registering the domestic partnership.
We strongly advise that you speak with an annulment attorney as soon as possible regarding the statute of limitations for an annulment. SOL’s can be extremely tricky to figure out an an experienced lawyer will be able to give you accurate legal advice.
What Happens When an Annulment is Granted?
If granted an annulment, the former couple is not obligated or entitled to the same rights as a couple that legally dissolved their marriage or domestic partnership; this is because the marriage/domestic partnership was not valid to begin with. However, if the couple has children or had a long-term marriage/domestic partnership, the courts will likely get involved. The children are not legally presumed to belong to the couple after an annulment, you’ll need to ask the judge to establish parentage if this happens. Without establishing parentage, you won’t have the legal rights as a parent to the child or children. To learn more about this, read our paternity webpage.
Since the marriage or domestic partnership was never valid, you wouldn’t be able to rely on the community property law in California to divide any property or debt acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership. There is also no right to requesting spousal support or anything else that a divorce entitles you to. This gets pretty complicated so its best to consult with an annulment attorney as soon as possible.
Hiring an Annulment Attorney
There are exceptions to the getting an annulment and the aftermath of the annulment though. Talk to our experienced family lawyers who can help you determine what you should do. If you think you qualify for an annulment, consult with a annulment lawyer as soon as possible. Remember, there are limit of statutes and you’ll need to provide proof to your reason for requesting an annulment in California.