The Annulment of Marriage Due to Abandonment

By Cindy Chung

Abandonment by a husband or wife often causes emotional, financial and legal stress. The abandoned spouse may want to know whether abandonment can result in an annulment of the marriage. Although abandonment generally does not serve as grounds for annulment, an annulment may be possible if the abandoned spouse can establish other grounds to invalidate the marriage. In addition, spousal abandonment or desertion may become grounds for divorce.

Abandonment by a husband or wife often causes emotional, financial and legal stress. The abandoned spouse may want to know whether abandonment can result in an annulment of the marriage. Although abandonment generally does not serve as grounds for annulment, an annulment may be possible if the abandoned spouse can establish other grounds to invalidate the marriage. In addition, spousal abandonment or desertion may become grounds for divorce.

Legal Significance of Annulment

An annulment invalidates a marriage. It's as if the spouses had never married. To obtain an annulment, an abandoned spouse must request a court ruling that establishes the couple's marriage as invalid. The court cannot grant an annulment unless the marriage meets criteria set by state law. In contrast to annulment, a divorce legally ends a valid marriage. After divorce, former spouses become single and can remarry, but the former marriage remains on the record. Although abandonment often serves as grounds for divorce, states generally do not grant annulments due to abandonment.

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Grounds for Annulment

Although each state sets its own annulment laws, states generally set similar criteria for invalidating a marriage. A couple generally has an invalid marriage if one spouse was already married or had failed to end a previous marriage properly at the time of the current marriage. Fraud or misrepresentation related to criminal history, sexually transmitted diseases, or impotence or sterility can also result in an annulment granted by a court. Other grounds for annulment often include marrying someone who's underage or mentally incompetent and; therefore, incapable of consenting to marriage, or marrying a close blood relative.

Abandonment and Divorce

Although spousal abandonment or desertion does not generally invalidate a marriage for the purpose of annulment, abandonment may become grounds for divorce. An abandoned spouse should research her particular state's laws to learn the specific requirements for divorce based on abandonment in her jurisdiction. A state might require abandonment or desertion for a specific period of time before the abandoned spouse can file for divorce. When granted by a state court, a divorce legally ends a marriage and frees the abandoned spouse for remarriage.

Other Legal Consequences of Abandonment

Spousal abandonment may result in additional legal consequences for the spouse who abandoned the marriage. For example, some states might impose a civil penalty such as a short jail sentence or fine on a husband or wife who deserts a spouse and allows the spouse to become destitute. In other states, spousal abandonment might eliminate a marital right to financial support, such as through spousal support or maintenance, unless the abandoned spouse caused the abandonment through misconduct. In addition, a spouse who abandons a husband or wife might give up the right to receive survivor's employment benefits if the husband or wife becomes injured or dies while on a job.

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Legal Remedy for an Abandoned Spouse

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Virginia Rights on Wedding Annulments

After an annulment, spouses become single again and are treated by the law as if they had never married. A couple may want an annulment to avoid the process of divorce or accommodate the spouses' religious beliefs against divorce. Not every couple who wants an annulment may be able to get one because Virginia permits annulments only for couples who can establish one of the grounds set by the commonwealth's law. In addition, the financial rights of spouses depend on the grounds chosen for their annulment.

How to File for an Annulment on the Grounds of Mental Disability

If a husband or wife was mentally disabled at the time of the marriage ceremony, the other spouse may be able to file for an annulment on the grounds of mental incapacity. The legal requirements and procedures for annulment are defined by the laws of the state in which the couple resides. If state law does not recognize mental disability as justification for an annulment, other grounds may need to be established or a divorce may need to be considered.

Annulment Requirements in California

In California, a court-approved annulment invalidates a marriage as if the two spouses had not married each other. Some couples would like to avoid divorce or legal separation by choosing annulment. While the state does set timing requirements, California law does not impose a minimum or maximum duration for the marriage to determine eligibility for an annulment. State laws establish several steps a spouse must complete before a California superior court may grant an annulment.

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