We know that based on the divorce rate in the U.S. and around the world that not all marriages have happy endings. Some marriages should never have happened at all. These marriages might be voided through annulment.
Unlike a divorce in New York, an annulled marriage ceases to have ever existed in the eyes of the law. The marriage was never a marriage. Realizing you made a mistake when you walked down the aisle generally doesn’t meet the requirements for erasing the union.
The law varies from state to state on what qualifies as a basis for voiding a marriage. New York law recognizes these grounds for annulment.
Not Old Enough to Consent to Marry
A person who was younger than 18 years old at the time of the marriage may petition to have the union annulled. A parent or guardian can also file the petition.
An annulment can be sought on these grounds until the party reaches the age of consent.
Marriage Consent by Force, Duress, or Fraud
Anyone who entered into the marriage due to pressure, force, or fraud, may be able to obtain an annulment. Examples of fraud include lying about being pregnant to compel a marriage and using marriage for immigration purposes. A hidden drug or alcohol addiction might also be a basis for voiding the marriage.
The ability to void the marriage is waived if you voluntarily live with the person after you realize the deceit.
Incapacity to Consent to Marriage
If either spouse was suffering from mental or developmental illness or another incapacity at the time of the marriage, an annulment might be possible. The marriage may be annulled for this reason at any time by either party with certain stipulations.
If the incapacitated spouse returns to a sound mind, that spouse can seek an annulment as long as they don’t continue to freely live with their spouse. One spouse can seek an annulment if they did not know the other person had a mental illness at the time of the marriage.
A relative (and in some cases even a friend) of the incapacitated party can also seek for the marriage to be invalidated.
Incurable Mental Illness
If either spouse is mentally ill for more than five years and cannot be cured, the other spouse can file for an annulment. A doctor or court must have declared the individual mentally ill. A concerned family member can also request an annulment on behalf of the incapacitated individual.
The ability to file for annulment is waived if the spouses continue to cohabitate as a married couple, even if the mental illness returns.
Inability to Consummate the Marriage
Annulment is possible if one spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse, but the other spouse was unaware of this condition. The alleged incapable partner can also seek an annulment if they were unaware of their own inability.
Annulment on this ground must be initiated within five years of the marriage.
The previous grounds cover situations in which a marriage, which seemed legitimate at the time it occurred, can be voided. New York law also has “prohibited marriages” that were never valid.
These voided marriages include the following:
- Bigamy: A marriage is void if one of the parties is still legally married to someone else.
- Ancestral Marriage: New York does not allow marriage between ancestors and descendants, siblings (including half-bloods), or an uncle and niece or aunt and nephew.
- Younger than 14: No one younger than 14 can marry, even with parental permission.
Legal Issues in Annulment Cases
Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is invalidated. Since annulled marriage technically never existed, these agreements are also null. Like divorce, there may be property and custody matters that must be settled.
An annulment does provide a mechanism to resolve the following matters:
Children: Children of voided marriages are still legitimate, and they retain their right to inherit from either parent. Child custody, visitation, and child support must be resolved in annulments.
Property: Property and debt generally revert to what it was before the marriage. Property purchased together can be ordered by the court to be distributed fairly, similar to a divorce action.
Legal Annulment vs. Religious Annulment
A civil annulment is a legal process that goes through the court system. A religious annulment is granted by a church or clergy member. A religious annulment does not void marriage in the eyes of the law. Depending on the religion, it’s possible to have a religious annulment and a legal divorce.
Legal Assistance for a Petition for Annulment
If you want your marriage to be invalidated, schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys in Dutchess County. We can evaluate whether your case might qualify for an annulment or if you will need to start divorce proceedings.
Call (845) 605-4330 or reach us through our online form.