An annulment is an alternative to divorce and available in very limited circumstances. In Maryland, the grounds for annulment fall into two categories, either void or voidable. A voidable marriage is one that is valid when it takes place, but can be declared invalid by the court. A void marriage is one that is illegal at the time it takes place and can never be made valid.
Lack of Consent
Marriage is a contract and, as such, both spouses must be able to fully consent to the marriage for it to be valid. Marriages in which there is a lack of consent for any reason are considered voidable and can be annulled by the court. Maryland recognizes two grounds for annulment involving consent: First, a person with a mental disability at the time of the marriage, whether temporary or permanent, cannot validly consent. An example of a temporary disability is intoxication. If one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, affecting their ability to rationally consent, the marriage is voidable and can be annulled. Second, if a marriage is entered into under duress, it is voidable and can be annulled. Duress means that a spouse was forced into the marriage because of threats made against her by her spouse or spouse's loved ones.
When a spouse consents to marriage, but later learns the other spouse deceived her to obtain her consent, the marriage is voidable and can be annulled on grounds of fraud. For example, a man who does not disclose he was previously convicted of a crime or was married in the past -- even if divorced -- may be fraudulently obtaining a woman's consent to marriage. If a woman tells a man she is pregnant when she isn't in order to convince him to marry her, the marriage is based on fraud.
Impotence is the inability to have sexual intercourse. In Maryland, if one spouse is unable to perform and satisfy the other spouse's physical needs, the spouses can file for an annulment. A marriage in which one spouse is impotent is considered voidable. The court will grant an annulment only if the filing spouse can prove two things: First, the spouse must present a diagnosis from a physician. Second, the spouse must establish she was not aware of her spouse's impotence at the time the marriage took place.
Maryland forbids any marriage involving consanguinity. This means that people who are related by blood cannot get married. Because such marriages are against the law, they are void and considered invalid the moment they occur. Although the marriage is never considered legal, it must formally be annulled by a court to be terminated.
You can only be married to one person at a time. If you have more than one spouse, you are committing bigamy. In Maryland, any subsequent marriage prior to the termination of a first marriage is considered void. Bigamy is a ground for annulment in Maryland. As with marriages of consanguinity, a bigamous marriage is not legal, but requires formal termination by the court.
Age 18 is the age of majority in Maryland -- and the age when a person can enter into a contract. Because marriage is a contract, a spouse must be at least 18 years old to consent. If one or both spouses is between the ages of 15 and 17, a parent must consent to the marriage or the wife must have given birth to a child. If a spouse is 15 to 17 years old and neither of these conditions occurred, the marriage is void and can be annulled. A child under the age of 15 cannot be married at all.