Annulment vs. Divorce: Which Is Right for You?
While an annulment is similar to a divorce in the sense that it terminates a marriage, there are some key distinctions that are crucial to understand. Unlike divorce, an annulment lawsuit terminates your marriage from public record. Simply put, an annulment “erases” a marriage so that it never existed in the first place.
While this deletion may sound significantly more appealing than spinning your wheels during divorce proceedings, it's important to understand that annulments are significantly more difficult to obtain than a standard divorce. To qualify for an annulment, certain conditions must be met.
How Do Annulments Work?
At the end of the day, any marriage can end in divorce—but not every marriage can be annulled. For the court to declare your marriage invalid, there are certain state-specific criteria that must be met.
Either spouse is legally permitted to seek an annulment assuming there are grounds for one. If proven, an annulment can be granted with or without the other spouse's agreement. Keep reading to learn what qualifications must be met for an annulment to be granted by the court.
How Do You Qualify for an Annulment?
Each state has its own set of rules and regulations regarding the required criteria for an annulment to be granted. Although California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the court will grant a divorce regardless of evidence of wrongdoing in the marriage, spouse(s) seeking an annulment must prove at least one qualifying circumstance to obtain an annulment. Take care to pay attention to the specified timeframes you must adhere to depending on the reason for seeking an annulment.
Here are some of the most common grounds for annulment in the state of California:
This occurs when the couple is related by blood (such as marriage between siblings, half-siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and the like). In instances of incestuous marriages, the union was never legal.
As the most common reason that couples seek annulments in California, bigamy is when one or both parties in a marriage were already married to someone else at the time of the union. Keep in mind that bigamy isn’t limited to marriage, but also includes lawful domestic partnerships. An annulment may be sought at any point while the other spouse is still alive.
Lack of consent
This occurs when one spouse couldn’t legally consent to the marriage because they were coerced, forced, threatened, or entered the union under duress. An annulment may be sought within 4 years of marriage.
Fraud is defined as “an intentional misrepresentation of fact that induces another person to act.” This typically entails one party concealing crucial information from the other, such as immigration status, impotence, illness, pregnancy, or financial status. An annulment may be sought within 4 years of the marriage.
Minors cannot legally consent to marriage. In the state of California, if spouse(s) were married while under the age of 18 it is grounds for an annulment. An annulment on the grounds of an underage marriage may be sought within 4 years after the underage spouse turns 18.
If a spouse has a chronic and incurable inability to consummate the marriage without the other spouse’s knowledge, this is grounds for an annulment. An annulment on the grounds of impotence may be sought within 4 years of the marriage.
Unsound mind at the time of marriage
If a spouse was of unsound mind, suffering from mental illness, or was otherwise mentally incapacitated at the time of union, the marriage may be voided. However, this typically involves obtaining sufficient psychological evidence or the testimony of expert witnesses for an annulment to be granted. An annulment on the grounds of mental illness or unsound mind may be sought within 4 years of the marriage.
If one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point of incapacitation at the time of the union, this may be grounds for an annulment in the state of California. An annulment on the grounds of incapacitation due to intoxication may be sought within 4 years of the marriage.
Process for Seeking an Annulment in California
There are important steps you must follow to obtain an annulment in the state of California:
#1: Figure out where you can file.
You can legally file for an annulment in any county where you or your spouse reside.
#2: Fill out the required paperwork.
All interested parties must complete 2 forms: FL-100 and FL-110. If you and your spouse have children who are under the age of 18, you must also fill out the Declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105).
Keep in mind that the spouse filling out the forms is the petitioner while the other spouse is considered the respondent.
#3: Find out if there are any local forms you must complete.
Some courts require additional local forms that spouses must complete to obtain an annulment. You can visit California's Self-Help Center to make sure you've covered all your bases regarding the required paperwork.
#4. Make copies and file the forms.
Make 2 copies of each form, take the original copies to the court clerk, and pay the fee. The price to file for an annulment typically ranges from $435-$450 depending on your location. There are also fee waivers available assuming you qualify and fill out the corresponding paperwork.
#5. Serve your spouse and file proof that you did.
You are NOT permitted to serve the papers yourself. Instead, you must ask another adult (the “server”) to serve the paperwork for you. Make sure the server delivers the following:
- Copies of forms filed with the court (with the exception of fee waiver forms)
- The blank response form (FL-120)
- Any additional blank response forms (only required if you filed additional papers)
We’re Here to Help Determine the Best Legal Path for You
At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, our dedicated annulment attorneys bring over 100 years of combined experience to the table. Our comprehensive understanding of family law gives us an edge in the courtroom, allowing us to advocate for our clients’ best interests. We make it a point to incorporate our knowledge and unwavering commitment to obtain the real results that our clients desire.
Seeking an annulment is a life-altering decision that can bring an overwhelming wave of unknowns, fears, and setbacks. You don’t have to navigate the storm alone. Call (949) 565-4158 to request a free consultation today.