You have the option to terminate your marriage through a divorce but, under certain circumstances, you may be able to “undo” the marriage entirely. When the court grants you and your spouse an annulment, it declares the marriage invalid. This process nullifies the marriage as if it never even took place. Do not confuse a civil annulment with a religious annulment. Religious organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, may grand spiritual annulments declaring a marriage invalid. Should you choose to remarry in the future, you can then do so without violating church doctrine. A religious annulment, however, does not dissolve your marriage in the eyes of the law. A civil annulment is the only form of annulment that severs the legal ties between you and your spouse.
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Examine your state's code for information regarding the grounds for civil annulment in your state and the time limit for filing your request. State requirements vary regarding what constitutes an invalid marriage. Many states make their state codes available online. If you have an attorney, she can also provide you with this information. Marriages are generally voidable if one party was already married when the marriage took place, if the parties are closely related, or if either party is mentally incompetent or underage.
Gather documentation supporting your claim that your marriage is invalid. For example, if you live in North Carolina, you can obtain an annulment on the grounds that your spouse was physically impotent when the marriage took place. Doing so, however, requires a physician’s statement acknowledging your spouse's condition. Without proper proof supporting your case, a judge can deny your annulment request.
Visit your county clerk's office and request a civil annulment packet. This packet contains all of the forms you need to file for a civil annulment. All states' paperwork requirements vary. Some states, such as California, will require that you fill out the same paperwork that would be necessary to initiate a divorce or legal separation. While each state has its own guidelines, your annulment packet should typically include a petition for annulment and a summons.
Fill out the petition for annulment and any other forms included in the packet that directly apply to your situation. If, for example, you and your spouse do not have children, you would not need to fill out forms that pertain to child custody arrangements following the annulment.
Prepare a written statement noting the reasons why the court should grant your request for annulment, if your state requires such a statement. If you have an attorney, your attorney can prepare this statement for you.
Make photocopies of the documentation you have that proves you have legitimate grounds for requesting an annulment. Make copies of each completed sheet in your annulment packet. Turn in the completed annulment packet to the court and pay the filing fee. Filing fees for civil annulment paperwork may vary by state and jurisdiction.
Send your spouse a a copy of each sheet of the completed annulment packet and a court summons. If your annulment packet did not include a summons, request a summons from the county clerk's office. You must follow service of process rules in your state when sending this information. For example, if your state does not allow service by registered mail, you can hire a third party, such as the sheriff's office, to serve your spouse with the paperwork. Your spouse then has the opportunity to respond to both you and the court. After your spouse responds or the time limit for doing so expires, the court will set a hearing date for your case.
Arrive in court on the date of the hearing. Present any evidence you have supporting your claim that your marriage is invalid. The judge will review your documentation and, if he determines that your marriage meets the legal requirements for an annulment, he will dissolve your marriage.