In the state of California, a marriage can be legally ended by either a divorce or an annulment. In a divorce – also known as “dissolution of marriage” in California – the court is asked to end a marriage that is legally valid. Annulment is only available in cases where the marriage was never legal or valid in the first place.
What Is an Annulment?
In California, annulment is a court process that voids a marriage that was never legally valid, making it as though it never happened. Reasons for an annulment include incest or bigamy; marriage by force or fraud; or marriage to a person who is underage, physically incapacitated, or of unsound mind.
Grounds for an Annulment
Any of the grounds listed below 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, then the circumstance may no longer be grounds for an annulment.
- Marriage to a 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.
- Incest: California law decrees that the marriage is void if the marriage is between relatives closer than first cousins.
- 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.
- Marriage by Force: One of the parties was either forced or threatened into the marriage.
- Marriage by Fraud: One of the spouses agreed to the marriage because of the misrepresentation or lies of the other spouse.
- 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.
- Physical Incapacity/Impotence: Either spouse suffers from a physical incapacity that would prevent sexual relations or procreation.
- Mental Illness: Either spouse was deemed to be mentally ill at the time the marriage occurred.
How to Get an Annulment in California
If you qualify for an annulment, then the process is simple. To file for an annulment in California:
- Fill Out the Forms – These will include a Petition, a Summons, and your Declaration.
- File Your Forms – Turn in your forms to the court clerk at the family court in your county.
- Pay the Filing Fee – If you cannot afford the fee, then you may apply for a waiver.
- Serve Your Spouse or Partner – This must be done by a friend, relative, county sheriff, or process server – not you. A Proof of Service of Summons form must also be filled out by the server and filed with the court clerk.
- Attend a Court Hearing – Annulments are finalized by a judge at an official court hearing.
How Long Does an Annulment Take?
In California, there is no waiting period for an annulment. It can take anywhere from several weeks to a several months or more. It depends on how quickly you can complete the forms, serve your partner, set a court date, and have the judge finalize your annulment.
Divorce vs. Annulment – What Are the Differences?
Divorce has more benefits when it comes to support and property division, but if your marriage was never valid to begin with, then annulment may allow you to avoid the costs and hassles of the divorce process.
The main differences between divorce and annulment include:
- Spousal Support – Either husband or wife can seek spousal support after a divorce. But after an annulment neither can seek support because the marriage has been found to be invalid from the beginning.
- Division of Property – Property acquired by either party during a valid marriage is generally considered to be community property. This is subject to division in a divorce. Usually, property acquired by a party during an invalid marriage remains his or her separate property.
- Grounds – Grounds for an annulment are typically: Misrepresentation or fraud, concealment of facts like one spouse is already married, underage, was forced to get married or the spouses are closely related. Grounds for divorce are typically: Incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, infidelity, or domestic abuse.
- Duration –A divorce can be granted at any length of marriage but typically an annulment is granted when the duration of the marriage has been short.
- Statistics –In the US it is estimated that 40%-50% of marriages end in divorce. There are 60,000 annulments granted yearly in the U.S.
Getting an annulment may prove to be a complex task due to the fact that it essentially erases the marriage, rendering some agreements completely void. It is in your best interest to seek the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney when you are determining if you qualify for an annulment.