While a divorce terminates a legal marriage, an annulment means that the marriage never existed legally. To qualify for an annulment, a marriage must be legally void or voidable. Void means that it is not valid, while voidable means that a court can declare it to be invalid if it is challenged. To be eligible for an annulment you must be able to prove one of the specific grounds to establish that your marriage is void or voidable. Otherwise, eligibility for an annulment is simple. However, many states require strict proof to declare an annulment.
Meet one of the legal grounds for annulment. Although the grounds vary from state to state, several reasons for annulment are common to all states. If a spouse did not have the legal capacity or the legal intent to enter into the marriage, an annulment is possible. Some common reasons that a spouse does not have the legal capacity to marry include a preexisting marriage, mental incapacity or being underage. Another reason is consanguinity, or a marriage between close relatives, which is illegal.
Determine if you were married without the proper intent, as an alternative to lacking the capacity to marry. A person who marries under fraudulent circumstances or under duress lacks the proper intent to enter into a marriage. For example, a person with false identity commits fraud if he marries someone who has no knowledge of his true identity. Another example is a sham marriage, in which the parties marry to deceive a government or corporate entity. A marriage that has not been consummated by physical relations can be annulled in some states.
Be the innocent spouse in your marriage in order to file for an annulment. In some states and under certain circumstances, the wrongdoer in a marriage cannot be the plaintiff in a lawsuit for annulment. For example, if a man forced you to marry him under duress, he cannot file for annulment himself. Or, if you were tricked into marrying someone but remained married after you learned the truth, you cannot file for an annulment in many states because your actions retroactively approved the marriage agreement.
Meet the residency requirements for the county and state where you seek an annulment. Usually, you or your spouse must have lived in the county for at least 90 days prior to filing for an annulment. Many states require a much longer period of residency. A lawyer or other officer of the court can tell you if you meet the residency requirements.
Meet your state's statute of limitations for annulment. For example, you might have to file within 90 days of the wedding ceremony, depending on the reason you are filing. You can find out if your state requires you to file within a certain time frame by consulting a lawyer, or you can look up this information in your state’s code of laws. You can usually find the state code online by conducting an Internet search or in a public library.