In a society where over 50% of marriages end in divorce, some individuals seek to have their marriage dissolved in an alternative way. In California, married couples can end their marriage through a divorce or by petitioning for an annulment. These two dissolutions have completely different results, and it is important to see which is right for you.
While a divorce is a legal termination of a marriage, an annulment, on the other hand, is a legal procedure to declare that the marriage never existed. An annulled marriage never legally existed and gives both partners a clean slate to begin their life.
Am I eligible for an annulment?
Because annulments carry limitations for when they may be granted, they are more difficult to obtain than divorces. In order to obtain an annulment in California, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- Blood Relation: If the spouses are related by blood, the marriage will have never been considered to be legal
- Bigamy: If a spouse is legally married before the second marriage, he or she may be eligible for an annulment
- Forced Consent: If either spouse was forced into marriage, he or she may be eligible for an annulment
- Fraud: If either spouse engaged in marriage for fraudulent purposes, such as marriage for the purpose of one spouse obtaining a green card, he or she may be eligible for an annulment.
- Incurable Physical Incapacity: If either spouse was physically incapacitated in a way that would prevent consummation, he or she may be eligible for an annulment.\
- Underage: If either spouse was younger than 18 years old at the time of the marriage, he or she may be eligible for an annulment
- Unsound Mind: If either spouse did not understand the magnitude of their marriage at the time of marriage due to an unsound mind (temporary or permanent medical condition, intoxication). Couples who were heavily intoxicated at the time of marriage often obtain an annulment on the grounds of unsound mind.
- Forced Consent: If either spouse was forced into marriage, he or she may obtain an annulment
Is it too late to get an annulment?
In California, couples have a limited time to petition for annulment. For each of the grounds on which the spouse is petitioning for an annulment, there is a specific statute of limitations:
- Bigamy: The annulment must be requested any time while the spouse is alive.
- Blood Relation: The annulment must be requested at any time while the spouse is alive.
- Forced Consent: The annulment must be requested within 4 years of marriage.
- Fraud: The annulment must be requested within4 years of discovering the fraudulent activity.
- Incurable Physical Incapacity: The annulment must be requested within 4 years of marriage.
- Underage: The annulment must be requested before the spouse turns 22 years old.
- Unsound Mind: The annulment must be requested anytime before death. In California, the family of a sickened spouse may petition for an annulment on the spouse’s behalf.
How do I get an annulment?
In California, the legal annulment process is very similar to the legal divorce process. These are the steps to getting an annulment in California:
1. Signing The Petition.
- Complete Form FL-100. This is the same form divorce petitioners complete, so make sure to check the box “nullify”.
2. Declarations for Annulment
- You must provide information regarding the marriage you wish to be annulled. This includes the names of the spouses, the date on which the marriage took place, the grounds on which you are basing your petition for annulment, and any further information you or your lawyer feels will strengthen your petition. You must also notify the court if you and your spouse have children.
3. Serve Your Spouse
- A copy of your petition must be formally served to your spouse, either by you or your attorney. If your petition was not served correctly, you could run into some trouble down the road. We at Pride Legal suggest you hire an attorney to ensure the petition has been served properly. If you choose to represent yourself, ensure you obtain proof of the petition’s delivery.
3. Complete Additional Paperwork
- Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be required to complete additional forms. If you have children who were born during the marriage you wish to be annulled, you are required to follow the Declaration Under Uniform Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
4. File the Petition
- File the petition with your county clerk and pay all related filing fees.
- Explain the grounds on which you are petitioning for an annulment. This gives you a chance to expand on the declaration you submitted with your petition and allows your spouse to object.
In California, the spouse petitioning for an annulment carries the burden of proof. The petitioning spouse must provide the evidence necessary in order to convince the court that your marriage is worthy of annulment. For example, if you are petitioning for annulment on the grounds of “incurable physical incapacity”, you must provide paperwork documenting your specific physical incapacity. Eye-witness accounts are also used as evidence in petitioning for an annulment.
My petition was awarded/denied. What’s next?
In California, if your petition for annulment is approved, the marriage is automatically considered void. It is as if the marriage never occurred. Any and all property you and your former spouse owned together must be separated. If you had children during your marriage, custody, visitation, and support must be established. In some cases, it may be necessary to legally acknowledge the paternity of a child.
In California, if your petition for annulment is denied your marriage will stay legal. It is as if you never applied for annulment. If you wish to continue your annulment, you may amend the FL-100 to fix the issue which caused your denial. Also, you may amend the FL-100 to petition for divorce.