Marriage Annulments: What Are They and How Do They Work?

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
June 1, 2022

Not every marriage is going to be successful. It can be emotionally taxing to consider that your relationship is falling apart. We know that is not what you want to hear, and there is no easy way of getting over a failed marriage. However, knowing the proper procedures for these situations is essential to put your life back together.

When you are in a situation that requires you to navigate separating from your spouse, your mind might instantly go to divorce. However, there are other ways to dissolve a marriage that are not quite as intensive, depending on the circumstances of the marriage.

Some marriages are not considered valid in the eyes of the law, and dissolving them means seeking an annulment. Annulment is sometimes used synonymously with divorce, even though the notion is flawed.

Solution An annulment and a divorce are very different legal proceedings with additional requirements to execute successfully. These fundamental differences can determine whether you will be able to annul your marriage or if you will need to look into filing for a traditional divorce.

This article is aimed at helping you understand what annulment is and how they are processed.

What is an Annulment?

What distinguishes a marriage annulment from a divorce is that an annulment is a retroactive voidance of your marriage. Unlike a divorce, which is meant to void the union going forward, an annulment is a way of going back and dissolving a marriage whose validity in the eyes of the law is questionable.

Solution Essentially, an annulment is little more than an invalidation of a marriage rather than an ending to one. A marriage that is eligible for annulment is one that had never been seen as valid in the eyes of the law from the beginning.

Several types of marriages qualify for annulment under the eyes of the law since the circumstances of the marriage were questionable.

What Is an Annulment

The exact details of what makes a marriage eligible for an annulment can vary since each state can dictate its laws on the subject. However, a few universal qualities of marriage render them void from the beginning. These include:

  • Age: One of the most significant and most disturbing types of marriages that are quickly annulled is if one of a couple is underaged. While most states have laws protecting children from being married to adults, some states allow underaged marriage with parental consent. However, you can annul them reasonably quickly because such marriages are not federally accepted. Unfortunately, the marriage's ability to annul is lost if the spouse agrees to remain married after reaching the age of consent.
  • Mental Handicap: Another cause of a marriage that can be annulled is if one party has a mental handicap that impairs their ability to consent. Anything from being heavily intoxicated to severe mental illness can allow one party to manipulate the other into agreeing to a marriage when they are not mentally competent.
  • Bigamy: This type of marriage is disregarded on a federal level as there is no state where marriage to multiple partners is legal. If your spouse was already legally married to someone else at your wedding, your marriage is already considered void and will be annulled.
  • Duress: Finally, it is possible to annul a marriage when a party coerced the spouse into agreeing to a proposal. If an individual convinced the spouse to accept a marriage proposal under duress, it had to have been a considerable form of coercion to qualify as eligible for annulment - this would include threats of violence, extortion, or some other form of physical or psychological harm.

Other causes of marriage are eligible for annulment. However, these are more common reasons behind these poor marriages. Any marriage performed under these circumstances is considered a marriage that can be annulled. However, the types of marriage that you can annul can be further divided into two categories of significance.

These marriage types will determine how the annulment will proceed. You might need to consult with an attorney for the most accurate information about your specific circumstances. However, there is some general information that might prove enlightening.

Void Marriage vs. Voidable Marriage

Marriages eligible for annulment can be categorized into two different types of marriages, void and voidable. Depending on what kind of marriage you are in, the ability to annul the marriage will vary. However, the question of how these marriage types differ remains for those who are not fully educated on the matter.

The simplest example is a void marriage, which is a marriage that was never considered valid in the eyes of the law. These marriages are the simplest to annul since they have no genuine standing in the judicial system. However, some states will still require void marriages to undergo the annulment process in a court of law to finalize.

A void marriage will involve a union between a party that meets one of the previously mentioned requirements and someone who orchestrated the marriage. The annulment process of a void marriage is little more than a formality to acquire official documentation proving that the union has been annulled within the bounds of the law.

Void Marriage

For the most part, however, voided marriages require no legal action to set aside and can be disregarded. Only a select few states expect you to seek out annulment paperwork to nullify the union.

Conversely, there is a voidable marriage. Unlike a void marriage, a voidable marriage is considered valid within the eyes of the law and is treated as such. Unlike a void marriage, a voidable marriage must be contested by one of the spouses and cannot be challenged by a third party or quashed by a court of law.

One of the married individuals must be the one to request the annulment and neutralize the marriage. Otherwise, a voidable marriage is left as an official and legally binding union between the two parties. Waiting too long to annul the marriage could cause you to require divorce proceedings. However, the exact nature of these proceedings will still be determined by the state laws where you live.

The only question left is how to secure an annulment for an eligible marriage. However, there is no definitive answer to this question since the process and requirements for annulment vary by state. For simplicity, we will be covering how to secure an annulment in the state of Nevada.

Example: How to Annul Marriage in Nevada

Filing for annulment will not always be the same in every state. However, once a marriage has been annulled in one state, the annulment is in effect across the country.

Solution To create an example that we can use for this article, we will be discussing the procedures as outlined in the state of Nevada.

To start, to file for annulment in Nevada, you and your spouse must have been residents of the state for a minimum of 6 weeks, or the wedding must have taken place in Nevada. Some states might require you to have been a resident for more than six weeks, while others might require less than six weeks. However, with all 50 states having their own set of laws for annulment, there is far too much to cover in this one article.

How to Annul a Marriage in Nevada

If you meet the inhabitant requirements of the state, the next step involves filing a Complaint For Annulment, which serves as a document to be sent to the judicial arm of the Nevada state government. The complaint serves as an outline in which you detail:

  • Basic information about yourself.
  • Basic information about your spouse.
  • Details surrounding your marriage.
  • Information about any children conceived from your marriage.
  • The grounds on which you want the marriage annulled.

Once the complaint is filed, the paper must be "served," delivered by an adult representative to your spouse. The person selected for this responsibility must file an Affidavit of Service per Nevada state law, which you must file with the court. The one serving the complaint to your spouse does so by hand and personally provides the copy to your spouse to alert them of the impending annulment.

After your spouse has acquired the complaint, they have options of their own that might affect the annulment process. Like a divorce, your spouse can file a counterclaim to try and prevent the annulment from going through. If this counterclaim is filed, the court will set a date for a conference to manage the case, where a judge will schedule a hearing to review the claims.

In this situation, it falls to the judge to determine whether or not an annulment is an appropriate response or not. However, you will still be permitted to submit additional evidence to support your complaint and strengthen the odds of annulling the marriage. Your spouse will also be allowed to testify to defend their stance on the matter.

Conversely, you can simplify the annulment process if your spouse does not file a counterclaim. Failure to respond to the complaint will enable you to request a default on the annulment - this means that the court will decide without your spouse attempting to stop the process from going through or offering their stance on the matter. If the default is approved, the judge will enter a Decree of Annulment into the record, dissolving your marriage.

Once annulled, it will be as though your marriage never happened, and you are free to pursue life as an unmarried citizen. The only caveat is that any children you and your spouse conceived will still be treated as a legitimate part of the marriage. Both parents will retain their parental rights regardless of annulment, and visitations negotiations might be necessary to maintain a civil arrangement.

Religious Annulment

There is one more aspect of annulment that might come up. Thus far, we have only discussed civil annulment as observed by the government's judicial system. However, many religions have their views on annulment. These religious annulments are not official in the eyes of the law but might come up if you practice a specific religion.

For example, Christianity has its regulations on annulment within the bounds of its religious practices that are not overseen nor recognized in a court of law. No matter your religion, you can seek annulment of a marriage that qualifies for such, whereas a religion might limit you based on issues of faith.

Religious Annulment

In the Catholic church, annulment is not an option since the marriage is considered a sacrament that cannot be dissolved. However, they have a "Declaration of Nullity" that enables separation due to a lack of legal backing for the marriage. Ultimately, religious annulments are little more than confirmations from houses of worship, and seeking one will not emancipate you from a marriage in the eyes of the law.

Solution It is impossible to go to your church and request an annulment and expect it to be honored by the government.

Annulling your marriage in the eyes of a religious figure will still have you bound by law to the marriage unless you annul it through the proper legal channels.

Learn the Law

While there are people who might use the term "annulment" synonymously with "divorce," the concepts are very different. The basic idea is that an annulment treats your marriage as never having existed, whereas a divorce marks a legal end to the marriage. Annulment has its limitations, but you can use it to escape a toxic marriage that might not have your best interests in mind.

Learn The Law

Being subject to a marriage that is considered void in the eyes of the people is not the most pleasant situation to be in but knowing you can escape it and seek a valid marriage might prove comforting.

Unfortunately, the laws surrounding marriage, divorce, and separation are complicated. Very few can understand them fully without extensive legal training. Fortunately, the information needed to understand your specific situation is no longer difficult to find. It would be great to get a discussion on this topic started! If you have any lingering questions about annulment, feel free to leave a comment expressing your concern.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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