If you’re thinking about ending your marriage you may be wondering which legal options may be available to you. In California, divorce is the primary method for dissolving a marriage. However, there may be other options for ending your marriage. If you believe that your marriage is not legally valid, you may be able to petition a California court for an annulment.

Annulment in California

An annulment is basically a way to void your marriage because it is not legal. When an annulment is granted, it is as if your marriage never even happened. In order to get an annulment, one spouse must file a formal petition with the court. A marriage will be presumed to be legal until this petition is filed.

Grounds for Annulment

In order to be granted an annulment, the petitioner (spouse who files the paperwork) must prove that at least one of the following grounds exists:

  • Incest
  • Bigamy
  • Underage at time of marriage
  • Unsound mind
  • Fraud
  • Force, or
  • Physical incapacity.

Time Limit for Filing an Annulment Request

In California, there is no time limit (statute of limitations) in which a spouse must file a petition for a divorce or separation. Filing for an annulment is a different story. With few exceptions, California generally requires spouses to request an annulment within four years of the date of their marriage. Spouses who request an annulment on the grounds of bigamy or mental incapacity may, however, request an annulment at any point during their marriage. Spouses who request an annulment because a spouse was under the age of 18 at the time of marriage must request an annulment before that spouse turns 22. If an annulment is not requested before the statute of limitations expires, spouses will likely have to seek a divorce if they want to split.

Factors That May Complicate an Annulment

Getting an annulment is something that is generally done in the very early stages of a marriage, which means that there tend to be few complicating factors. Young couples tend to have limited property together and may not yet have children. When couples do share significant property and/or the custody of children, splitting up can become significantly more difficult. Even though a marriage is deemed to be invalid, property division and custody issues may still arise.

Children of an Annulled Marriage

When spouses have children together in a marriage they are considered to be the legal parents of those children. This does not hold true for spouses who get an annulment. If you have children during a marriage which is later annulled, the father will have petition the court to formally recognize his paternity and parental rights. Once paternity is established, parents can proceed with important discussions about child custody and child support.

Dividing Property After an Annulment

Getting an annulment means giving up the benefits of marriage. This includes the laws concerning community property and property division. Spouses who get their marriage annulled may have a more difficult time divvying up property after a split. However, if you honestly believed that your marriage was valid, you may be able to obtain the benefits of California’s community property laws as a putative spouse. This can be a complicated process, and it will be important to consult with an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney for help resolving any disputes.

What if I Don’t Qualify for an Annulment?

Just because you don’t qualify for an annulment doesn’t mean that you have to stay in your marriage. You still have options available to you. If an annulment is out of the question, you may still be eligible for summary dissolution. Summary dissolution allows couples who (a) have been married for less than 5 years, (b) share no children in marriage, and (c) share little-to-no property to end a marriage without going through the lengthy process of divorce. If you don’t qualify for a summary dissolution, divorce is always an option.

Contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Fernandez & Karney to request a free consultation and learn more about the options that you may have available to you to end your marriage.