When you know your marriage is over, the next step is reviewing your options. Perhaps it would be better to get a legal separation. You could still benefit from several legal advantages while discontinuing the relationship. Of course, you can always have a traditional divorce, dissolving all ties with your partner.
There is a third option, one that is far less discussed. Maybe you could have your marriage annulled, but you maybe not. Annulment is a very particular way to end a union. You can be granted an annulment only under strict conditions.
What Is Marriage Annulment?
Annulment is an often misunderstood legal procedure. To understand exactly what it is, let’s compare it to divorce.
Divorce is part of your legal record. Essentially, you were legally married at some point, and that marriage ended.
Annulment works a little differently. It is the legal invalidating of a marriage. The marriage is a part of your personal history. It remains part of your story and your memories. Legally, however, it never happened.
Given that, the law is strict about how to grant annulment. The marriage is wiped clean from your record because it never should have happened. Essentially, it was never valid. Now you’re simply going through the process of officially removing it from your life.
Legal Requirements for an Annulment in California
One Person Was Already Married
Thus far, no state has legalized bigamy. Some are more lenient about non-monogamy than others, but none allow someone to legally marry multiple people. If you discover that your spouse is already legally married to someone else, you can have your marriage annulled.
To be clear, “legal” is the keyword in California. For someone to be guilty of bigamy, they must be legally married to more than one person. Imagine you discover your spouse has a secret family across the state. They have children and another partner who believes they are the legal spouse. California does not have common-law marriage. If your spouse never legally married this other person, it is unlikely that you will be granted annulment. The state will most likely regard this situation as an affair, and you will need a standard divorce to end the marriage.
Either Spouse Was Mentally Ill at the Time of the Marriage
Mental illnesses, depending on the type, are not always obvious. Someone could appear to be completely clear-minded and in control of their faculties. They never exhibit any overt, outward signs that they are having an episode. One day, this person regains their senses and finds themselves married to a total stranger. Some forms of DID, for example, can operate this way. Amnesia sufferers could have a similar experience. Eventually, their memories return, and they realize that they are living a life they never wanted. In such situations, it may be possible to have an annulment.
Either Spouse Couldn’t Agree to the Marriage
It may seem odd, but scenarios like this are possible. Perhaps the couple had planned to marry, but one of them was injured. While comatose, their partner went forward with the paperwork and officialized the marriage. Since the unresponsive partner could not consent to the marriage, they can ask for an annulment.
Either Spouse Was Physically Unavailable for the Marriage
Like the situation above, this is an odd scenario, but it can happen. Let’s say that, on the day of the marriage, there was a problem with passports, and one of the spouses was stuck in another country. The other, assuming everything should go according to plan, goes forward and has the marriage legally sanctioned. This could be just cause to have the union annulled.
Someone Was Forced into the Marriage
Most of us are fortunate enough to live free lives, choosing who we marry based on love and compatibility. Unfortunately, some people are trapped in oppressive systems, and they are forced into a marriage they don’t want. Some isolated religious groups arrange marriages within their membership. Perhaps someone was born into an organized crime family, and their marriage was a power consolidation between rival gangs.
Coercion can also happen between two people. One may blackmail the other into the relationship. Defrauding someone into marriage is a form of coercion as well. For example, someone could intentionally misrepresent themselves, conning someone into marrying them.
Either Spouse Was Underage at the Time of the Marriage
In most circumstances, 18 is the legal, adult age. Minors can sometimes marry, but only with the express consent of their parent or guardian. Without that consent, the minor simply cannot marry, and an annulment may be appropriate.
Annulment Time Limits
In the following cases, you have four years to file for annulment:
- A spouse regains their faculties
In cases where a spouse could not consent to the marriage, such as mental illness incapacitation, they can invalidate the marriage when their senses return.
- A spouse was underage
The underage spouse may file before or after they turn 18. This means they must file before they are 23.
- A spouse was coerced or defrauded into the marriage
This restriction can be tricky. It may take longer than four years for the manipulated spouse to feel safe enough to attempt an annulment. A merciful court may consider this, but most likely, it will demand a standard divorce.
Four years is a long time to act, and that’s intentional. Imagine you awoke from a mental fog to find yourself married, and you continue the marriage for another 1,460 days. At this point, the law assumes you have chosen to participate. If, after the deadline, you decide to end things, you’ll need to have a divorce.
Seeking an Attorney for Help
The ending of a marriage is rarely cut-and-dry. Even in an uncontested divorce, there are many factors to consider, and it takes time to cover them all. If you believe you are eligible for an annulment, speak with an attorney. Allow them to review your case. Even if annulment is possible, your lawyer could offer you reasons why divorce is the better option.
If you are fleeing a marriage of coercion, an attorney can help. Your lawyer can assist with restraining orders, protecting you from your abuser. There are several types of orders, and they can help keep you safe before, during, and after annulment.
For help with divorce or annulment, contact our firm for help. If you need protection from an abusive spouse, don’t delay. We can help with restraining orders, and we can begin the process of ending the marriage. Our number is (949) 565-4158, and you can contact us online.