An annulment, like a divorce, ends a marriage. Unlike a divorce, however, it voids the union. A judicial annulment is essentially a court declaration that a valid marriage between the parties never existed. In New York, like most states, statutes authorize annulment under very limited circumstances, with different rules depending on whether the marriage is considered "void" or "voidable." Courts require a higher degree of proof for the elements of an annulment than is required for a divorce.
Under New York law, courts annul marriages considered "void ad ignition," or void from the beginning. In other words, the marriage was not considered legal to begin with. If the person solemnizing your marriage had no right to do so under New York law, marriage did not occur in the eyes of the state and the "marriage" is void. New York also voids incestuous marriages, including those between a parent and child, siblings or close blood relations, such as between a niece and an uncle. Similarly, if you or your spouse were already married to someone else at the time of your marriage, your union is void. Void marriages can never be legitimized regardless of the desires of the couple.
Age or Mental Disability
New York courts also annul marriages considered "voidable." Unlike void marriages, voidable marriages are deemed valid unless and until annulled. If you were underage when you married, you can annul the union by bringing an action for annulment before your 18th birthday. "Underage" in New York means under the age of 14 or between ages 14 and 18 without proper parental or court consent. A marriage may also be voided if mental disability rendered one party incapable of understanding what she was doing or if either spouse develops an incurable mental illness that lasts for five years or more.
Fraud or Duress
For a marriage to be valid, both parties must have consented to it of their own free will. New York courts void marriages resulting from force, duress or fraud. If a party is forced into marriage with threats or in reliance on a material representation that was fraudulent, the court will likely find a lack of consent. Special time limits apply to void a marriage for fraud. The defrauded party must bring an action for annulment within five years of discovering the fraud. Cohabiting after discovery of duress or fraud will ratify a marriage that would otherwise be voidable.
Filing for annulment in New York is easier if the matter is uncontested. If your spouse agrees with your decision to seek an annulment, you may be able to represent yourself before the court. Obtain the required forms and instructions from a court clerk in New York or from a reputable online legal document provider. If your spouse opposes the petition for annulment, consider hiring an attorney to represent you.
Effect of Annulment
If a New York court agrees with your argument and voids your marriage, it issues a judgment to that effect. Despite the fact that an annulment "erases" the marriage, both the marriage and annulment remain a matter of public record. The declaration of annulment dissolves the marriage, but it legitimizes any children of that marriage. The court decision also spells out child support and custody rulings as well as asset division between the parties.