An annulment (or “nullity”) is when a court says a marriage or domestic partnership is NOT legally valid. After an annulment, it is like the marriage or domestic partnership never existed because it was never legal to begin with. This is very different from a divorce or a legal separation, where there is a valid marriage or domestic partnership, and the couple cites “irreconcilable differences,” for example, as a reason for getting divorced or separating.
The annulment process came into the spotlight of international news recently when the Catholic Church released two new documents written by Pope Francis, changing the way the Church will view and handle annulments in the future. The Catholic Church holds that if two people divorce and then remarry, they are committing the grave sin of adultery. Because of this teaching, if the Church gives one permission to remarry, then it would be giving that person permission to commit adultery. Therefore, if a divorced person wants to remarry, the Church needs to examine the first marriage to see if it was valid or not. If the marriage was found to be not valid, then the parties are free to marry other people.
This annulment process was often times very slow and difficult. The Pope reformed the annulment process to make it more efficient, more accessible and less time-consuming.
Here in California, to get an annulment, one must be able to prove to the judge that one of the following reasons for annulment exists:
- The attempted marriage is incestuous, or when the parties are close blood relatives;
- The attempted marriage is bigamous, or one party is already married to someone else;
- At the time of filing for the attempted marriage, one or both parties was under the age of 18 without the consent of their parents;
- Either party was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the attempted marriage, including the obligations that come with it;
- The attempted was based on fraud. The fraud must have been about something vital to the relationship that directly affected why the deceived party agreed to the marriage; or
- If either party consented to getting married or as a result of force.
Getting an annulment does not depend on how long the couple was married or in a domestic partnership. However, annulments do have a filing deadline. This period of time within which one can file for an annulment varies depending on the reason for the annulment. There is a residency requirement to file in California, but there is no required length of time for residency like there is for a divorce.
Once a court finds a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid, the legal rights and duties of community property laws in California do not apply when dividing any property or debt the parties accumulated while married or in a domestic partnership. It also means that the parties will not have the right to spousal or partner support, or other benefits like the right to a portion of the other person’s pension or retirement benefits.
If you have questions about the difference between annulment, legal separation or divorce, make an appointment for a free 30-minute consultation with an attorney at Cage & Miles, LLP today.