Annulment, according to Wikipedia, is a process for declaring a marriage null and void. Unlike divorce, an annulment is retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered invalid from the start – as if it had never taken place. There are two types of annulment – religious and civil. However, even if you obtain a religious annulment, to dissolve your marriage legally and in the eyes of the state, you must have a civil annulment approved by the courts after a formal annulment proceeding.

Many people misunderstand precisely what an annulment is and what it does. This general introduction discusses the civil annulment procedure in California. In central California, it’s wise to discuss the specifics of a particular annulment with a knowledgeable Fresno family law attorney, because an annulment is not something that is simply granted “on demand” like divorce. It’s a bit more complicated.

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In California, annulments are uncommon. An annulment must be approved by a California court and is only granted in precise, particular circumstances. The annulment procedure determines how any marital property will be divided. Child custody and child support are also determined if the spouses have children. The criteria for an annulment in California are exacting. If none of the elements listed below apply to a marriage, a California judge probably will not annul the marriage, so the spouses may need to think about legal separation or divorce. An annulment may be sought in California for any of these reasons:

  • Deception or fraud: One spouse lied to the other about something important in a marriage, like the ability to conceive children.
  • Force: One of the parties was forced, bullied, blackmailed, or otherwise intimidated into getting married.
  • No consummation of the marriage: One partner is unable to have intercourse, and the other partner didn’t know it until after the marriage ceremony.
  • Incest, bigamy, or an underage partner: The marriage was illegal because the spouses are too closely related by blood, or because one of them is already married to someone else, or because one partner was under the age of consent at the time of the marriage and did not obtain a parent’s approval.
  • Unsound mind. One or both spouses did not have the mental capacity to understand what was happening at the time of the marriage, or one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the marriage.

Note that while bigamous and incestuous marriages are illegal – and in that sense, those marriages are “already” null and void – there is still a legal requirement for an annulment because property and debts must be divided and because there may be children involved. Thus, to ensure justice and to avoid legal disputes in the future, an annulment is legally required to conclude a bigamous or incestuous marriage.

IN AN ANNULMENT, HOW ARE PROPERTY AND CHILDREN HANDLED?

Most marriages that are annulled are annulled quite quickly, in weeks or months rather than years. Thus, the division of marital assets and debts is rarely a complicated process, and there are usually no children. When the marriage being annulled has been a longer marriage, an annulment can still be granted faster than a divorce if the spouses can agree on property and debt division and on child custody and support. When spouses can’t agree, the court handling the annulment will make the following determinations:

  • the terms for child support
  • the terms for child custody and visitation
  • division of marital debts and properties
  • determination of any other property claims

IS THERE A TIME LIMIT FOR ANNULMENTS IN CALIFORNIA?

Divorces and annulments mostly achieve the same ends. Annulments, however, are usually less expensive and less emotionally contentious than divorces. The grounds for an annulment can also dictate legal timing limitations. An annulment for the reason that one spouse was too young to marry, for instance, must be initiated within four years of that partner’s 18th birthday. California sets a statute of limitations for each of the different grounds for an annulment. When a statute of limitations has expired on a particular requirement for annulment, the annulment likely will not be approved, and spouses will need to look at legal separation or divorce.

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The blank legal forms that California requires parting spouses to complete are the same forms for legal separations, annulments, and divorces. (You simply check one of the three boxes on the form.) If children are part of the marriage, more forms will have to be completed. In central California, those requesting an annulment should ask a Fresno family law attorney to help with the annulment filing and the accompanying paperwork, because any error might slow down the annulment procedure or even lead to the petition’s rejection.

The legal paperwork for an annulment petition includes a petition, a summons, a statement of the reason(s) for the annulment request, and an explanation of why the court should sign off on the request. The non-filing spouse must be served a copy of the complete, filed paperwork by an adult who is not a principal in the case or by mail that requires a signature upon receipt. The non-filing spouse then has thirty days to file a response to the annulment petition.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING AND AFTER AN ANNULMENT HEARING?

Usually in a California annulment proceeding, the judge handling the annulment petition will meet formally with the spouses. This hearing must take place at least thirty days after the annulment papers are served to the non-filing spouse. Subsequent to this hearing, the court may reject the annulment petition or may grant the petition and also decide on matters like the division of marital property and debts, child custody, and child support and visitation.

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An annulment may be the right option for couples who want to avoid a divorce. Some want their marriage annulled because their faith community disapproves of or does not allow for divorce. Other couples may choose annulment for reasons linked to benefits or taxes. So long as you live in California, you can petition to have a marriage annulled in California – there is no length-of-residency requirement like there is for divorce. A California family lawyer can discuss with you how the laws regarding annulment apply in any specific California marriage, and a family lawyer can also help you determine if your own marriage meets this state’s criteria for an annulment.