After an annulment, spouses become single again and are treated by the law as if they had never married. A couple may want an annulment to avoid the process of divorce or accommodate the spouses' religious beliefs against divorce. Not every couple who wants an annulment may be able to get one because Virginia permits annulments only for couples who can establish one of the grounds set by the commonwealth's law. In addition, the financial rights of spouses depend on the grounds chosen for their annulment.
Right to an Annulment in Virginia
Not every Virginia resident has a right to obtain a marriage annulment. Spouses cannot annul their marriage simply because they have been married for a short period of time. Only a spouse who can establish a void or voidable marriage can receive an annulment order from a circuit court. Virginia laws set grounds for annulment through the legal definitions for void marriages and voidable marriages.
Right to Annul a Void Marriage
Virginia annulment laws define several types of void marriages: incestuous marriages between certain types of blood relatives; bigamous marriages involving at least one spouse who was already married to someone else; and underage marriages when the spouses did not receive the required parental consent. A void marriage does not meet Virginia's requirements for marriage, so it does not legally exist. Therefore, spouses with a void marriage can present themselves as single or marry other people without getting an annulment decree from a court. However, the spouses may choose to take the matter to court if they want to get a formal decree confirming each party's marital status.
Right to Annul a Voidable Marriage
Voidable marriages, unlike void marriages, require a court proceeding to cancel the marriage and include annulment grounds such as impotence, fraud, duress, prostitution or criminal conviction unknown as the time of the wedding. To annul a voidable marriage, a spouse must start court proceedings within two years of the wedding date. In addition, a spouse may lose the right to annul a voidable marriage if she learns of the grounds for annulment during the marriage but continues to live with her spouse.
A spouse seeking an annulment should understand the difference between a void marriage and a voidable marriage because financial rights, including the right to request spousal support, vary according to the grounds for annulment. A spouse can ask the court to award spousal support after annulment if the couple had a voidable marriage. A spouse with a void marriage does not have this same right. Similarly, only a voidable marriage allows a husband or wife to seek court-ordered property distribution of marital assets and debts. If property distribution is applicable to the annulment proceedings, the court may apply the property distribution laws also used for divorces in Virginia.
Right to Death Benefits
Spouses often have the right to receive death benefits in the event of a spouse's death. For example, life insurance policies, employee compensation plans and retirement plans often designate spouses as beneficiaries. Under Virginia divorce and annulment laws, a court order for an annulment automatically ends a spouse's right to receive benefits in the event of the other spouse's death. However, spouses may enter into an agreement that specifically allows death benefits to continue after annulment. In addition, a spouse may be eligible for death benefits under federal law, even if Virginia law eliminates some of the spouse's rights.