What Goes to the Essence of Marriage in Annulment Cases?

By Beverly Bird

Annulment isn't an easy fix for an "oops" marriage. In fact, it's typically far simpler to get a divorce, because all states now recognize some form of no-fault grounds. An annulment is a ruling by the court that your marriage should never have existed in the first place, and it can be difficult to prove that. That is particularly true if you want to establish that your union is the result of something that went to the essence of the marriage.

Annulment Grounds

If you just want a divorce, depending on where you live, you can either separate from your spouse for a period of time, or tell the court that you have irreconcilable differences or your marriage is irretrievably broken. In most cases, you don't have to prove to the court that your marriage is broken, and you don't have to cast blame. If you want an annulment, however, you lose this no-fault advantage. You must prove that something was inherently wrong with your marriage even before you said, "I do."

Void vs. Voidable Marriages

Annulment grounds fall into two categories: some apply to voidable marriages, and others apply to void marriages. A void marriage is one that was illegal in some way from the beginning. For example, if either you or your spouse were already married, marrying again would be bigamy. Bigamy is illegal, so your marriage is void. It's not actually necessary to legally annul these marriages, although it may be a good idea just to tie up loose ends. Voidable marriages are those that appear OK on the surface but involve some factor that gives either spouse grounds to contend that the marriage shouldn't have occurred, or that either spouse would not have married had he been aware of the problem. Examples include impotence on the part of one spouse, or that one spouse lacked the mental capacity to understand the commitment he was making, either for mental health reasons or due to the influence of drugs or alcohol. States set their own annulment rules, so a marriage that is void in one state may be voidable in another.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Essence of the Marriage

Annulment grounds that go to the very essence of a marriage usually involve fraud. Marriage is a lifelong commitment that requires spouses to place the utmost trust in each other. If one spouse withholds a circumstance or truth that would affect the other's willingness to commit, this goes to the essence of the marriage – it defies what marriage is supposed to be. A classic example is a spouse marrying solely because she wants a green card. She has no intention of making a lifelong pact with her spouse – she just wants to immigrate. Another example would be someone saying that she wants children, but after the marriage, she takes great pains not to conceive. Grounds that go to the essence of the marriage must negate the concept of marriage. They don't include things like concealing a bad habit, such as drinking, smoking or gambling.

If Your Spouse Contests

If your spouse contests the annulment, a typical defense is proving that you resumed marital relations and continued living together after you learned the truth. For example, if your spouse only wanted a green card, but you tried to make the marriage work for six months after you found out about this, you might have to seek a divorce instead. Your spouse can also argue that the fraud you're alleging did not go to the essence of your marriage. For example, she might state that you said you didn't want children, so concealing her feelings on the subject did not necessarily violate trust.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
New Jersey Guidelines for Annulment


Related articles

How to Get a Divorce if Your Marriage Was Never Valid

If your marriage is a sham, you have two options for ending it. One’s difficult and the other may not be so hard, but it depends on your particular circumstances and whether your spouse wants to put an end to the charade as much as you do.

What Can Happen to Me if I Remarry Before Getting a Divorce?

Depending on where you live, if you marry before your divorce is final, you could conceivably go to jail. You have two spouses: the one you haven’t divorced yet and the one you just married. This is bigamy, and it is a crime in every state. Civil family laws treat the concept of bigamy somewhat differently; because your second marriage is illegal, it technically can't exist. You can still be prosecuted in criminal court, but you don’t have to divorce to end the marriage. You can annul it.

Does Adultery Justify Divorce?

Not only does infidelity lead to discord in a marriage, it often causes spouses to call it quits. If your spouse cheated on you and you're filing for divorce, you may want to list adultery as the reason your marriage came to an end. However, not all states give you this option. While all states permit spouses to file for divorce on no-fault grounds, meaning a spouse does not have to prove misconduct on the part of the other to get a divorce, only some states recognize adultery as grounds for divorce.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Requirements for an Annulment in Massachusetts

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t annul your marriage just because it was fleeting in duration. Each state’s ...

Causes of Divorce: Habitual Drunkenness

In 2010, New York became the last jurisdiction to pass provisions for no-fault divorce, so all 50 states have now moved ...

Valid Reasons for a Marriage Annulment in Texas

All courts need a reason to make rulings, so all lawsuits require grounds – something that has occurred that's contrary ...

What Is the Meaning When Your Annulment Is Denied?

If a court denies your petition for annulment, the good news is that it does not mean you have to remain married. The ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED