Divorce constitutes an end to a marriage, while an annulment deems a marriage never existed. Over time, however, the lines between divorce and annulment have blurred as some states address property division issues in annulment cases even though the union legally never existed. Although a no-fault divorce may be allowed in some states, the grounds or requirements for an annulment are strictly defined and may vary from state to state.
Failure to Consummate
Although not common in today’s society, failure to consummate a marriage remains a legal reason for annulment. Failure to consummate, when it occurs, may have its roots in physical inability as opposed to unwillingness. Male impotence as well as a female condition referred to as “vaginismus” have been linked to failure to initiate marital relations.
Grounds for annulment may exist when one spouse failed to disclose a mental illness to the other. Proof of mental illness by a licensed psychiatrist or a prior court order declaring mental incompetence will likely be required by the court. The guardian of a mentally ill person may also petition the court for an annulment on behalf of his ward, declaring the marriage void or voidable based on the inability of the ward to consent to marriage.
If one spouse has committed bigamy, the second marriage was unlawful. Just because it was unlawful, however, doesn’t mean that an annulment can’t or shouldn’t be sought through the court. If the couple has spent several years in the bigamous relationship, children may have been born and property accumulated. Once an action is filed, a court may declare the union can’t be completely erased and treated as if it never existed although a decree of annulment may be granted.
Annulments have also been a way for a parent to remove an underage child from a marriage for which parental consent was not obtained. If an underage individual marries, depending on the age and circumstances, the court may annul the marriage upon request by the parents or guardian of the minor. Some states recognize an underage marriage legally contracted under the laws of another state while others do not. If the wife in an underage marriage is pregnant, the court may refuse to annul the marriage based solely upon the desires of her parents.
Fraud or Intimidation
When someone is deceived into marriage through fraud or misrepresentation, in a way that materially affects the marriage or marital issues, the court may award an annulment. Additionally, when one person forces another to marry through threats of violence or intimidation, the victimized party may be awarded an annulment by the court.
State law generally determines how closely-related two people must be before it is illegal for them to marry and the marriage considered void. One state may recognize a marriage between related husbands and wives, even if considered incestuous in that state, if the parties married in a state where the relationship was considered legal.