What Could Be Physical Incapacities in an Annulment?

By Beverly Bird

It’s generally difficult to convince a court to grant you an annulment rather than a divorce. An annulment is a judgment declaring that there was something so wrong with your marriage, the law can't recognize it as having existed. Divorce “undoes” your marriage; annulment erases it entirely. Grounds vary, but most jurisdictions recognize physical incapacity as a reason for annulment.


Physical incapacity means that one or both partners are incapable of “consummating” the marriage. In layman’s terms, they’re physically unable to engage in sexual intercourse. Impotence is a common example, but some courts will accept an innate abhorrence of the sexual act. Women can be physically incapable of sexual relations as well as men, due to surgical procedures or complications, or congenital problems. In the legal sense and in association with annulment, physical incapacity always relates to sexual marital relations.


An inability to engage in intercourse is usually not grounds for annulment in itself. Other factors must also exist, although the criteria vary by state law. For example, if a spouse is impotent, California law requires that the condition be incurable. In Illinois and Minnesota, you must not have been aware of your partner’s physical incapacity prior to the marriage. In New Jersey, if your spouse becomes impotent or unable to engage in sexual relations after the date of the marriage, you cannot have your marriage annulled. Generally, once you find out that your spouse can’t consummate your marriage, you have only a limited amount of time to do something about it. Illinois gives you only 90 days to file for an annulment after you discover your partner’s incapacity, but if you live in Minnesota, you have a year. In California, you can wait four years after the date of your marriage to file for annulment on grounds of physical incapacity.

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Proof is another hurdle you must overcome before a court will grant you an annulment on grounds of physical incapacity. A judge won’t just take your word for it. Some courts might require medical records. If your spouse does not want an annulment, it’s unlikely she will voluntarily submit to a medical exam to prove she’s incapable of having sex. The court might order her to see a physician to establish proof, or a judge might grant the annulment simply because she refuses to provide proof that she’s not incapable.

Other Options

You may be unable to produce concrete evidence of your spouse’s incapacity, or you may simply be reluctant to air intimate details of your marriage in a courtroom. If you discover that the annulment process involves obstacles you can’t overcome, a no-fault divorce is usually an easier option. With such a divorce, you do not have to prove your grounds and your spouse can't contest them. However, some states may require that you live separately for a period of time before you can file for divorce on no-fault grounds.

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Colorado Divorce Law on Lack of Sex


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How to File for an Annulment in Maryland

You can only file for annulment in Maryland if your marriage possesses certain defects. For example, if your spouse lied to you about being able to conceive children, if one or both of you were underage when you married, or if you were extremely intoxicated during the marriage ceremony, these issues would qualify as grounds for annulment. If your marriage involved bigamy or incest, filing for annulment may not even be necessary. You can simply walk away because such marriages are never legally valid in Maryland to begin with.

Maryland's Annulment Laws

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.

How to Get an Annulment in New York

An annulment, like a divorce, ends a marriage. Unlike a divorce, however, it voids the union. A judicial annulment is essentially a court declaration that a valid marriage between the parties never existed. In New York, like most states, statutes authorize annulment under very limited circumstances, with different rules depending on whether the marriage is considered "void" or "voidable." Courts require a higher degree of proof for the elements of an annulment than is required for a divorce.

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