An annulment (or “nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership”) is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. After an annulment your marriage is not recognized because it was never legal.
Legal Reasons for an Annulment
A marriage is never legally valid when it is:
- Incestuous: when the people who are married or in a registered domestic partnership are close blood relatives; or
- Bigamous: where a spouse or domestic partner is already married to or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else.
Other marriages and partnerships can be declared invalid because of:
- Age at the time of marriage or domestic partnership: the party filing for the annulment was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership.
- Prior existing marriage or domestic partnership: Either party was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This is different from bigamy (which is automatically illegal) because, in this case, the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.
- Unsound mind: either party was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the marriage or domestic partnership, including the obligations that come with it.
- Fraud: Either party got married or registered the domestic partnership as a result of fraud. The fraud must have been about something vital to the relationship that directly affected why the party who was deceived agreed to the marriage or domestic partnership. Some examples are marrying only to get a green card or hiding the inability to have children.
- Force: either party consented to getting married or filing a domestic partnership as a result of force.
- Physical incapacity: the parties got married or registered a domestic partnership while 1 of them was “physically incapacitated” (basically, it means that 1 of the spouses or partners was physically incapable of “consummating” the relationship) and the incapacity continues and appears to be “incurable.”
These are short explanations of the reasons for an annulment. Each of these reasons has important details you have to prove to get a court to give you an annulment.
To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that 1 of these reasons is true in your case. This makes an annulment case very different from a divorce or a legal separation. For example, “irreconcilable differences” are not a reason for getting an annulment.
Getting an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married or in a domestic partnership. Even if you have been married/in a partnership only a very short time, you may not be able to prove to the judge that your case has 1 of the legal reasons that makes your marriage/partnership invalid.
Proving that there is a legally valid reason to get an annulment can be very difficult. Talk to a lawyer for help understanding exactly what you need to show to a judge before he or she will agree to give you an annulment. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Statute of Limitations to File for an Annulment
The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. Divorces and legal separations do not have a deadline. You can file for divorce or legal separation at any time. But annulments do have a deadline. In general, once the statute of limitations “runs out,” you can no longer file for an annulment.
The period of time within which you can file for an annulment varies depending on the reason why you want the annulment. Here are the statutes of limitations for the reasons to ask for an annulment:
Age at the time of marriage or domestic partnership: The person who married or entered into a domestic partnership while under 18 must file for annulment within 4 years after reaching 18. (A parent or guardian of the minor can ask for an annulment while the minor is still under 18.)
Prior existing marriage or domestic partnership: An annulment in this case can be filed by either party as long as both parties to the current marriage/partnership are alive, or by the prior existing spouse or domestic partner.
Unsound mind: An annulment in this case can be filed by the party claiming that his or her spouse or domestic partner is of unsound mind, or by a relative or conservator of the party of unsound mind, at any time before the death of either party.
Fraud: An annulment on grounds of fraud can only be filed by the person who was deceived. It must be filed within 4 years of discovering the fraud.
Force: An annulment on grounds of force can only be filed by the person who was forced to give consent. It must be filed within 4 years of getting married or registering the domestic partnership.
Physical incapacity: An annulment in this case can be filed by the party claiming that his or her spouse or domestic partner is physically incapacitated. It must be filed within 4 years of getting married or registering the domestic partnership.
Effect of Getting an Annulment
Since an annulment means your marriage or domestic partnership was never valid, you may not have other rights and obligations that couples who file for divorce or legal separation do.
Rights and obligations relating to the children
If you and your spouse or domestic partner have children together and you get an annulment, the legal presumption that children born during a marriage or domestic partnership are children of the couple also does not exist. This means that, if you get an annulment, you must also ask the judge to establish parentage (paternity) for any children you have in common with the other party. Talk to a lawyer about how to do this. Click for help finding a lawyer. The family law facilitator or self-help center may also be able to give you some information.
Once the parentage is established, then you can, in your annulment, ask the judge to make orders about:
- Custody and visitation, and Child support.
- Rights and obligations relating to property and debt
When you claim that a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid, you are also saying that the legal rights and duties of community property laws in California do not apply. This means that you and the other party cannot rely on community property laws to divide any property or debt that you accumulated while you were married or in a domestic partnership.
It also means that you would not have the right to spousal or partner support, or other benefits like the right to a portion of the other person’s pension or retirement benefits.
But there is an exception: Someone in an invalid marriage or domestic partnership may have “putative” spouse or domestic partner status. This means that they may have the right to community property, support, and other property-related benefits. To prove you have “putative” spouse or partner status can be complicated. You will have to prove that you had a good faith belief that the marriage or domestic partnership was legal under California law.