North Carolina, like most states, allows parties to obtain an annulment rather than a divorce. Qualifying for an annulment isn't easy, however. Certain conditions must be met. If a court finds that grounds for annulment are present, it will grant the request. Unlike a divorce decree, which ends a marriage that legally exists, an order of annulment treats the marriage as though it never existed at all.
Obtaining an annulment in North Carolina involves submitting a petition to the district court in your county. You must provide your reason, or grounds. The court will determine if your marriage is either void or voidable, both of which are conditions for annulment. If the court annuls your marriage, it's treated as though it never occurred. If you don't qualify for an annulment and you want to end the marriage, you will have to file for divorce instead. If issues such as property division must be resolved, the court will render a decision on these matters as well.
A void marriage is one that is considered invalid as of its inception; it's unlawful and incapable of legal recognition. With such marriages, court intervention is not necessary and an official annulment is not required. You can go your separate ways and you're free to marry other people. In North Carolina, only one type of union meets this condition – a bigamous marriage in which one of you is already married and you enter into a new marriage without legally ending the first one. Although receiving an official annulment is not required for bigamous marriages, it might be helpful to get one anyway to eliminate any confusion that may arise later.
Unlike bigamous marriages, voidable marriages are not illegal from the start. The only way to end a voidable marriage in North Carolina is to seek a court order canceling it. Only certain conditions are recognized by state law as giving rise to a voidable marriage. These include marriages between family members who are double cousins or with a lineage closer than first cousins, and persons who are younger than 16 when they marry. Voidable marriages also include situations in which one spouse is impotent or lacks the mental capacity to consent to marriage. A marriage is also voidable if it was entered into because of a false pregnancy claim.
Although a marriage involving someone younger than 16 is voidable in North Carolina, some exceptions exist to this rule. If a teenager between the ages of 14 and 16 is pregnant, she can marry after getting a court order granting her permission. In this case, her age at the time she married does not make the marriage voidable. If one of the parties is currently pregnant or if a child was born to the marriage, it is not voidable. If the child is dead when the annulment is filed, however, the marriage is eligible for annulment. In the case of impotence, the condition must have existed at the time of the marriage and it must be diagnosed by a doctor. A marriage due to a false pregnancy claim is only voidable if the parties separate within 45 days of the marriage and if a child is not born within 10 lunar months of that date.