Steps to Getting an Annulment in California

Many couples who have decided to end their marriage in California seek an annulment. Like a divorce, an annulment is a court procedure that dissolves a marriage. The primary difference between the two is that an annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened. Some couples may choose annulment for religious reasons, or simply because they feel annulment does not carry the same weight or stigma as a divorce. However, it’s important for couples to be aware of the distinction between an annulment granted by a church versus the one granted by a court.

Annulment is a frequently misunderstood legal concept due in part to differing and inaccurate views presented by popular culture and religion. There are also strict guidelines to follow that California couples may not be aware of. An experienced family law attorney can provide the proper guidance and support to couples seeking an annulment. The family law lawyers of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have the skilled advocates you need to guide you through the annulment process. We have decades of experience representing the rights of separating couples and we are committed to bringing you peace of mind during this difficult time. Contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation on how to get an annulment.

What is the Difference Between a Void and Voidable Marriage?

An annulment can be associated with two types of marriage: a void marriage, or a voidable marriage. The distinction might sound insignificant, but it is actually important to know which one you’re dealing with. A void marriage is one that is invalid from the very beginning. This type of marriage is one that was unlawful to form in the first place and so the law simply does not recognize it as a valid, legal marriage. In the case of such a marriage, the law requires no formality to terminate it, meaning an annulment would be unnecessary. However, there are still several reasons why you might want to seek one anyway, such as clearing the record and resolving collateral issues, such as child custody and division of assets and property.
A voidable marriage, on the other hand, is a legal marriage that can be cancelled at the option of one of the parties and is subject to cancellation if contested in court. You can petition to the court for a decree of nullity to declare the marriage void on a number of grounds we will discuss below. If you choose an annulment based on a voidable ground, you will need to prove to the court that you were ignorant of these facts at the time of the marriage.

What are the Grounds for Annulment in California?

As mentioned above, it’s important to keep in mind that a legal annulment is different than a religious annulment. The grounds for a religious annulment typically include a spouse’s inability to create a true marital relationship because of spiritual or psychological conditions. These may in fact be legitimate concerns to many Californians dissolving their marriage, but unfortunately, they’re not grounds for a legal annulment. As discussed, the grounds for annulment for a void marriage differ from those of a voidable marriage.

Grounds for Void Marriages in California

The following are grounds for a void marriage in California:

Incest

A couple who is too closely related by blood will be found to have a void marriage in California. California Family Code Section 2200 and 2201 govern marriages or domestic partnerships that are considered void. Under Section 2200, a marriage is never legally valid when it is incestuous. These are marriages or domestic partnerships between a parent and a child, ancestors and descendants of every degree, siblings, half-siblings, and between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews.

Bigamy

Under Family Code Section 2201, a marriage or domestic partnership is never legally valid when it is bigamous. A marriage or domestic partnership is bigamous when a spouse is already married to or when a domestic partner is in a registered domestic partnership with someone else who is still alive. However, there is an exception to bigamous marriages. A bigamous marriage could still be considered valid if:

  • The former marriage or domestic partnership has been dissolved or adjudged a nullity before the date of the subsequent marriage or domestic partnership
  • The former spouse is missing or not known to be living for five years prior to the subsequent marriage or domestic partnership; or
  • The former spouse is reputed or believed to be dead.

A marriage can also be considered void for the simple failure to satisfy any of the requirements needed for a valid marriage or domestic partnership in California.

Grounds for Voidable Marriages in California

California Family Code Section 2210 states when a marriage or domestic partnership is voidable. The grounds for a voidable marriage or domestic partnership are the following:

Age

If either party is under the age of consent (18 in California), the marriage is considered voidable. A marriage or domestic partnership with a minor is also voidable if there was no consent from either of the minor’s parents or from a court at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership. If the parties freely cohabitate as husband and wife after the minor has reached the age of consent for a specified amount of time, then the marriage will be recognized by law.

Fraud

If either spouse perpetrated a fraud to obtain the other party’s consent to marriage, the marriage is voidable. The fraud has to go to the heart, or essence, of the marriage. A common example would be when one spouse persuades the other to marry because of a secret desire to become a citizen or remain in the United States. If the deceived party has full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud and freely cohabitates with the other spouse, the marriage will be held to be valid.

Force

If either spouse consented to the marriage as a result of force, the marriage is voidable. If the forced party continues to and freely cohabitates with the other spouse, the marriage will be held to be valid.

Lack of Capacity

Lack of capacity can refer to either mental or physical impairment.

  • Mentally Unsound—If either party is of unsound mind, or unable to understand the nature of the relationship, the marriage is voidable. If the party of unsound mind eventually comes to reason and continues to freely cohabitate with the other spouse, the marriage will become valid.
  • Incurable Physical Incapacity—If either party is incapable of physically “consummating” the marriage and the incapacity continues and appears to be incurable, the marriage is voidable.

What are the Timing Requirements for Annulment in California?

There are various statutes of limitations associated with each ground for annulment. There is generally a specified period during which the party requesting an annulment must file the paperwork to start the legal proceedings.

  • Bigamy: You or your spouse can file at any time while the spouse from the first marriage is still alive.
  • Age: If you’re filing because you were under 18 at the time of your marriage, you must file for annulment within four years after you turn 18.
  • Fraud: You must file within four years of discovering the fraud.
  • Force: You must file within four years of the getting married.
  • Lack of Mental Capacity/Unsound Mind: You can file at any time before you or your spouse die. A relative or conservator of the sick person can also file for annulment.
  • Lack of Physical Capacity: You must file within four years of getting married.

These deadlines are strict and come associated with serious financial and custodial implications. If you are seeking to end your marriage through annulment, it’s important to talk to an experienced family law attorney to make sure you are within the statute of limitations for your particular ground for annulment.

What Paperwork Do I Need to Complete for Annulment in California?

Courts in California generally require the same paperwork requirements for divorce, legal separation and annulment. A petition for annulment and a summons must be completed. The petition must include the grounds for an annulment and an explanation of why the court should grant it. Additional forms may be required for spouses who have children together, due to paternity issues that arise from a declaration of annulment.

Do I Need to Provide Notice to My Spouse that I’m Filing for an Annulment?

The other spouse must be provided with notice of the filing. The other spouse must receive a copy of the completed, filed paperwork using a delivery method accepted under California law. This includes personal delivery by a non-party adult, or service by mail with the other spouse’s written acknowledgment of receipt.

What Happens at the Court Hearing for an Annulment in California?

An annulment case in California generally requires a court hearing with both spouses and a judge. The hearing cannot take place until 30 days after the other spouse has received the annulment papers from the filing spouse, allowing the other spouse an opportunity to file response papers. The judge will decide whether to grant the annulment and issue other court orders regarding the legal issues relating to the dissolution of a marriage. These would include things like alimony and spousal support, child custody and support, and allocation of property rights. The hearing will take place regardless of whether the other spouse participates in the process.

Contact an Experienced California Annulment Attorney Today

Ending a marriage through annulment comes with many complexities and subtle nuances that may be confusing to couples. An experienced California family law attorney can help you with every step of the process, from selecting the right ground for annulment through representing you at the hearing. The attorneys of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC can provide skilled advocates to guide you through this difficult time. Contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation on your annulment.

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