Couples often mistakenly assume that an annulment is an easier, cheaper and quicker alternative to a divorce, but in fact, obtaining an annulment is generally more difficult. State laws allow annulment in only limited circumstances. Couples cannot get an annulment unless their situation fits one of their state's legal grounds, or bases, for annulment. The process and bases for annulment varies by state, but annulment generally is not based on the length of time the couple has been married.
Annulment Vs. Divorce
An annulment is not really an alternative to divorce. Unlike divorce, an annulment legally erases the marriage because it was never valid. When couples divorce, they break the bonds of a valid marriage; when couples get an annulment, the court rules that their marriage was never legal to begin with. Thus, an annulment may not grant couples the same rights and obligations that a divorcing couple has. For example, a divorce court can divide access to the couple's children and split their property and debts, but a couple that gets an annulment does not have the same ability to have their property and child custody divided.
Age and Incest
Each state establishes the legal age at which a teenager can marry, with or without parental consent, and a person who marries before this age may later be able to annul the marriage. For example, California allows someone who married or entered into a domestic partnership while under 18 to obtain an annulment as long as he files before he reaches the age of 22. Couples can also file for annulment if they discover their marriage was incestuous, meaning they are too closely related to marry under their state's laws. Like other grounds for annulment, age and incest grounds are based on the idea that the marriage was not legal to begin with.
Fraud and Force
Marriages procured by fraud or force are eligible for annulment. Fraud is trickery that entices a person to marry who would not have married had she known the truth, such as when one spouse lies to the other about his criminal history or sexually transmitted diseases. Courts typically view marriage as a type of contract, so both spouses must enter the marriage of their own free will or the contract is not valid. Generally, the annulment request can only be filed by the victim of the fraud or force rather than the perpetrator.
Incapacity of Spouse
Annulments are sometimes granted if either spouse is mentally or physically incapable of performing his marriage duties. For example, a spouse could file for an annulment if the other spouse is unable to consummate the marriage because of impotence, even if the impotent spouse did not know about his impotence at the time of the marriage. Spouses can also file for annulment if one has a significant mental illness, but again, the specific laws vary among states.