California marriage annulments: What are they and how do they work?

Under certain circumstances, people may seek to have their marriages annulled, or declared legally invalid, in lieu of getting a divorce.

After entering into a marriage, couples may decide they no longer want to be together. This may be for any number of reasons, including deception. In some cases, rather than getting divorced, they may be able to seek an annulment. An annulment declares a marriage legally invalid, according to the Judicial Council of California. Consequently, it is as though it never happened.

Grounds for a nullity of marriage

Not all couples who want to end their marriages may have them nullified. According to the Supreme Court of California for Sacramento County, the grounds for a nullity of marriage include the following:

  • A spouse was underage when he or she entered into the marriage
  • Incest
  • Bigamy
  • Prior existing marriage
  • A spouse was incapacitated or of unsound mind when he or she entered into the marriage

Additionally, people may be able to get an annulment if deception on the part of one of the spouses led to the marriage and continued throughout its duration. Being forced into a marriage by the use of threats or acts of harm may also be grounds to have a marriage nullified.

Statute of limitations

People do not have an unlimited time frame to seek to nullify their marriages. The deadlines for nullity cases depend on the reason for which someone is requesting an annulment.

In cases when people are seeking an annulment because they were underage, the statute of limitations is four years after they turn 18-years-old. Within four years of getting married, people must take action to nullify their marriages in situations when they were forced into a marriage or were physically incapacitated when they got married. In order to have a marriage annulled based on fraud, people must take action within four years of discovering the deception. There is no statute of limitations, however, for annulments on the grounds that a spouse was of an unsound mind when he or she got married or that one of the spouses was already legally married to someone else.

Effects of annulments

When getting an annulment, it is important for people to keep in mind that this action differs from a divorce. Since nullifying a marriage makes it as though it did not happen, people do not have the same rights as they do when they legally terminate their marriages. Thus, with few exceptions, the same community property laws do not apply to the division of any shared assets. Additionally, people whose marriages are annulled cannot seek spousal support.

Working with a lawyer

There are numerous complexities involved with nullity of marriage cases in California. Therefore, those who are considering having their marriages declared invalid may consider consulting with a legal representative. An attorney may explain their rights and options, as well as guide them through the legal process.