Divorce laws can be complicated and difficult to understand, but annulment laws are often even worse. This is especially true in Maryland. A marriage is only annullable if certain circumstances existed before your marriage, or at the time you married, that means you couldn’t or shouldn’t have wed. Depending on what that circumstance was, sometimes Maryland doesn’t even require you to take legal action to undo your mistake.
Some marriages are illegal from their inception and Maryland does not give you the option of staying married if your union falls into this category. These are “void” marriages – or, in legal terms, “void ab initio.” Your marriage is void if either you or your spouse were already married when you exchanged vows. If you’re related to your spouse by blood, your marriage is void. Maryland law requires spouses to be at least 18 years old to marry, unless one or both are 16 or 17 years of age and have parental permission or the bride is pregnant or has given birth. However, if one or both of the individuals are 15 years of age, they must have both parental consent and the bride must be pregnant or have given birth, or the marriage is void. If you or your spouse don’t meet these statutory requirements, you’re not legally married. Technically, you don’t have to file for annulment in Maryland if your marriage is void. No marriage exists to annul.
Other marriages are “voidable” in Maryland. They’re legal, but so fundamentally flawed that the law allows you to erase them. Voidable marriages require an official annulment decree from the court ending the union and the grounds can be somewhat difficult to prove. A marriage is voidable if you were heavily under the influence of drugs or alcohol when you wed, or if your spouse tricked you into marrying him by lying about something so important that you would not have married him if you had known the truth. Duress is also grounds for annulment in Maryland. This means your spouse forced you into marriage by threatening some horrible punishment if you refused. Impotence also renders a marriage voidable.
Mental incapacity is also grounds for annulment in Maryland, but this is a tricky issue so speak with an attorney if you think your marriage qualifies. If your spouse is legally insane, this makes your marriage void. However, if one of you simply did not understand what you were doing due to mental illness, this is a voidable marriage in Maryland. It’s a fine distinction so you may need professional help to sort it out.
Although the length of your marriage is not grounds for annulment in Maryland, the state’s legislative code does include some time constraints. If you continue to live together as husband and wife after your cause for annulment has rectified itself, you would have to divorce instead. For example, you or your spouse might reach the age of majority so your marriage is now legal. It can't be annulled. If your spouse was impotent, but sought treatment and has since recovered, you can't have your marriage annulled.
Property Distribution and Children
Children born to annulled marriages are legally legitimate in Maryland. This includes children born to void marriages, and they’re entitled to child support. If you and your spouse acquire any property together, it’s distributable the same as it would be if you divorced instead. If you need the court to issue orders regarding any of these issues, Maryland law allows you to officially file for annulment even if your marriage is void. The only way you can legally resolve or enforce issues of custody, support or property distribution is to ask the court for a decree of annulment. This might also clear up any confusion down the line as to whether your marriage was legally erased.