Annulment: Benefits, Grounds and Procedures
Annulment of a marriage is available in California for spouses who, for a variety of reasons, prefer to avoid divorce or legal separation. Some benefits for choosing an annulment instead of a divorce include avoiding the stigma of divorce, ability to have a religious wedding ceremony in the future, or maybe even to cast blame on the other party for the marital breakdown. Often, annulment is used as another way to protect your assets as an annulment basically erases your marriage.
Regardless of your reasons, there are several requirements and steps needed to receive a court ordered annulment. In California, a court-approved annulment invalidates a marriage as if the two spouses were never married to each other. California marriage and divorce laws establish the grounds for annulment available to spouses. Generally, an individual can receive an annulment if the marriage was obtained under the following circumstances:
- In cases of bigamy, when one spouse who was already married to someone else.
- Where incest exists, such as siblings or other close blood relatives.
- When marriage resulted from fraud or force.
- One of the spouses had an unsound mind or was under age 18 at the time of the marriage.
- The other spouse’s incurable physical incapacity.
Statute of Limitations
In California the grounds for an annulment determine the timing requirements for an annulment filing. State laws set a statute of limitations, or a specified time period, in which the party requesting an annulment must file paperwork to start the legal proceedings for annulment. There are various grounds for annulment. For example, the statute of limitations for an annulment based on fraud sets the timing requirement at four years. If the statute of limitations has already expired, annulment is likely no longer an option and a divorce or legal separation is the only option to end a marriage.
In general, annulment paperwork includes a petition and a summons and explains why the court should grant the petition. The courts require additional forms if the spouses have children together. You must serve completed, filed paperwork to the other spouse by using one of the methods accepted by California law. The documents must be served by personal delivery by an adult who is not a party to the proceeding or service by mail with the other spouse’s written acknowledgment of receipt.
A California annulment case generally requires a court hearing. Both spouses meet with the judge assigned to the case. The court hearing cannot take place until at least 30 days after the other party was served with the annulment papers. At the scheduled court hearing, the judge may grant the annulment and issue court orders regarding the legal issues related to ending the marriage. Other matters the judge will make an order for includes spousal support, child custody, child visitation or property rights. It is important to understand that the judge will issue orders, even if the other spouse does not take part in the process. Therefore, it is in the best interest of both parties to attend the hearing and seek legal advice from an experienced California family law attorney.