If you’re recently gotten married but are trying to find a way to have the marriage dissolved, you may be able to get an annulment. In California, married individuals can dissolve a marriage through a divorce or by petitioning for an annulment. The legal result in the wake of either of these dissolutions is strikingly different.
A divorce is a legal termination of a valid marriage. An annulment, on the other hand, is a declaration that a marriage never even existed. Rather, a couple who is successful in obtaining an annulment essentially gets a clean slate. It is as if the marriage, once annulled, never existed at all.
Who Can Get an Annulment?
Annulments are more difficult to obtain than divorces simply because there are limitations on the grounds for which they may be granted. You may petition for an annulment in California if you meet one of the following grounds:
Blood Relation. If the spouses are related by blood the marriage will never be considered legal.
Bigamy. If a spouse is legally married prior to the second marriage the marriage will never be considered legal.
Underage. If either spouse was not 18 years or older at the time of the marriage they may seek to have the marriage annulled.
Fraud. If either spouse fraudulently engaged in marriage, or caused their spouse to fraudulently engage in marriage, they may seek to have the marriage annulled. Green card marriages are an example of a marriage perpetrated by fraud. Note, the fraud must go “to the essence” of the marriage to warrant annulment.
Incurable Physical Incapacity. If either spouse suffers from a physical incapacity that would prevent fruitful sex or child-rearing, they may petition for an annulment.
Unsound Mind. If either spouse has a temporary or permanent mental condition that prevented them from fulling understanding the magnitude of the marriage they entered, either spouse may petition for an annulment. Unsound mind is the most-often cited grounds for annulment by couples who were heavily intoxicated when the marriage was performed.
Force. If either spouse is forced into the marriage they may petition the court for an annulment.
When Can I Get an Annulment?
California limits the time in which a spouse may petition the court for an annulment. The statute of limitations for an annulment depends on the grounds on which the spouse is seeking the dissolution.
Bigamy. Annulment may be requested at any time while the married spouse is alive.
Underage. Annulment must be requested within 4 years after the underage spouse turns 18.
Fraud. Annulment must be requested within 4 years of discovering the fraud.
Incurable Physical Incapacity. Annulment must be requested within 4 years of marriage.
Unsound Mind. Annulment may be requested at any time before death. In California, the family or designated agent of a sick spouse may file on their behalf.
Force. Annulment must be requested within 4 years of marriage.
What Is the Process of Getting an Annulment?
The process for getting an annulment in California is similar to that for a divorce. It includes completing a petition, serving the request on your spouse, filing the documents and paying court costs, attending a hearing, and waiting for the judge’s decision. Steps to getting an annulment in California include:
- Signing the petition. To start the process of getting an annulment in California you must complete Form FL-100. This is the same form used to petition for divorce, so it is important to check the box for “nullify.”
- Declarations for Annulment. You will be required to provide information about the marriage you’re seeking to have annulled including: the names of both spouses, date of the marriage, the grounds on which you are basing your petition, and any additional information you think may be helpful in persuading the court to grant your petition. If you have children who are a product of the marriage that you are trying to annul you must notify the court.
- Serve your spouse. A copy of the petition must be formally served on your spouse. If you are working with an attorney they will ensure it is served properly. If you are representing yourself, make sure you receive proof that the petition was delivered. We recommend working with a skilled family law attorney when seeking an annulment.
- Complete additional paperwork. Local jurisdictions may require additional forms or paperwork. Check with your local office to see if any other forms are necessary. If you have children that are a product of the marriage you will be required to complete the Declaration Under Uniform Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.
- Fie with the clerk. To submit your petition for review you must file it with the county clerk and pay all related filing fees.
- Attend a hearing. Explain the reasons why you are requesting the annulment. This gives you a chance to expand on the declaration you submitted with your petition and allows your spouse to object.
The spouse requesting an annulment in California carries the burden of proof. If you request an annulment you must provide the evidence necessary to convince the court that your marriage should be annulled. If, for example, you are seeking an annulment because you were not of age at the time of the marriage you will need to offer evidence – such as a birth certificate – proving you were not 18. If you are seeking an annulment on the grounds of unsound mind because you were drunk, you’ll need to supply evidence proving that you were incapable of understanding the magnitude of your decision to get married. Statements from eye-witnesses who can confirm your intoxication would be helpful here.
Award or Denial of an Annulment – What’s Next?
If your petition for annulment of marriage in California is approved your marriage is void. It is as if the marriage never happened. Any property that you and your former spouse owned together will need to be separated. If children are involved you will be required to agree to custody, visitation, and support. In some cases it may be necessary to legally acknowledge the paternity of a child. However, California has presumptions of paternity that generally cover children from an annulled marriage to help establish paternal rights and obligations.
If your petition for annulment in California is denied your marriage remains legal. You may request to amend the FL-100 to fix the problem that caused your denial. Alternatively, you may request to amend the FL-100 to petition the court for a divorce.