Marriage can be legally ended by either a divorce or an annulment. In a divorce, also known as “dissolution of marriage,” the court is asked to end a marriage that is legally valid. An annulment cancels a marriage completely and can only be granted when the marriage is deemed to be either illegal or invalid. Either spouse can initiate the annulment, but the party that initiates has to must prove grounds for an annulment.
Grounds for an Annulment
- Minor: At the time of the marriage one of the parties was under the age of 18 and did not have legal capacity, parental consent, or permission from the court.
- Bigamy: At the time of the marriage one of the spouses was already married to another person. One exception is if the husband/wife from the prior marriage was absent and not known to be alive for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date the second marriage was contracted.
- Consent was Forced: One of the parties was either forced or threatened into the marriage.
- Fraud: One of the spouses agreed to the marriage because of the misrepresentation or lies of the other spouse.
- Incest: California law decrees that the marriage is void if the marriage is between relatives closer than first cousins.
- Mental Illness: Either spouse was deemed to be mentally ill at the time the marriage occurred.
- Mental Incapacity: Either spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the marriage. As a result the spouse was unable to make informed consent.
Any of the above grounds must have existed at the time of the marriage for an annulment to be considered. An important note: if the circumstance was eliminated later on, was announced or became known to the party wishing to annul the marriage, and that party continued to freely cohabitate with the other party after the circumstance was made known, the circumstance may no longer be grounds for an annulment.