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Annulment of Marriage in California: What You Need to Know

What You Need to Know About the Annulment of Marriage in California

An annulment effectively removes any evidence of the married couple’s relationship from the record and renders the marriage as if it never existed.

In this sense, it is very different from a divorce—and it can also have some significant legal consequences, especially when it comes to property division and paternity.

If you are considering the annulment of a marriage in California, therefore, it’s important to consider all the factors, learn as much as possible about the requirements for annulment, and understand what the process entails.

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What is the difference between annulment and divorce in California?

A divorce ends a marriage, essentially dissolving it and allowing the ex-spouses to legally go their separate ways. The grounds for divorce in California are most commonly “irreconcilable differences”—although other legal reasons can justify a divorce.

At the conclusion of a divorce, each partner is considered single and can remarry but the marriage remains permanently on the record.

An annulment, on the other hand, declares that the relationship formerly considered a marriage was invalid and should never have been considered a marriage.

After a judge has decided that an annulment can proceed, the courts remove all evidence that the marriage ever existed. Legally, it never happened and those who are the subject of an annulment can honestly say that they were “never married”.

What qualifies as an annulment in California?

Some marriages are illegal from the outset in California (“void” marriages) and others are considered “voidable”, usually due to a legal challenge from one of the spouses or if new information comes to light.

Regardless, because marriage is a legally binding union, the factors that qualify for an annulment of the marriage in California are necessarily stringent.

The legal grounds for annulment are usually based on one of the following reasons:

  • One party was under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage.
  • An incestuous marriage has occurred between close blood relatives (such as siblings, aunt/uncle or niece/nephew).
  • The marriage was bigamous, with one of the spouses already married to someone else.
  • One party forced or tricked the other party to get married against their wishes (legal marriages must be entered into by free will).
  • One party could not consent to the marriage because he/she was of “unsound mind” at the time of the marriage, e.g., one party was severely mentally incapacitated or intoxicated at the time of agreement to the marriage.
  • One party acted fraudulently to influence the other party to get married or obtain consent for marriage, e.g., a “marriage of convenience” where it is discovered that one party married the other solely to remain in the United States.
  • The inability of one spouse to consummate the marriage.
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How much time is allowed for an annulment in California?

In some annulment cases, a request must be submitted to the court before a certain period has passed for a judge to decide that the marriage is illegal. This is usually called the “statute of limitations”, which is essentially the time limit that applies to filing a legal case.

The four-year rule

In the case of a marriage that is voidable because of the inability to participate in sexual intercourse to consummate the marriage, a request for annulment must usually be submitted to the court within four years in California.

However, the time limit (if there is one) depends on the reason for the annulment. Other examples of the “four-year rule” include the following:

  • For an underage marriage (under age 18 on the day of marriage), a request for annulment must be filed within four years of turning 18.
  • For a forced marriage, a request for annulment must be filed within the first four years of marriage.
  • For a fraudulent marriage, a request for an annulment must be made to the courts within four years from the date that the fraud was discovered.

Annulments without time limits

Some annulments in California fall outside of the standard four-year statute of limitations. Some examples include:

  • For an annulment based on one party being of unsound mind at the time of the marriage, an annulment request can be filed at any time before either spouse dies. If either party was unsound due to physical or mental illness, that person’s relative can sign the legal documents on their behalf.
  • For an annulment based on a spouse being already married when entering into the new marriage, annulment can be pursued at any time before the first spouse’s death.

In some cases, other new information comes to light that could render the marriage voidable—again, regardless of the time that has passed. A good example is the revelation that a spouse previously thought to be deceased is still alive. This would mean that one partner had entered a bigamous relationship by marrying again and an annulment could be sought at any time after the marriage is confirmed.

Generally speaking, providing you meet one of the stated grounds for annulment, it’s best to file the necessary documents with the California courts as soon as it becomes apparent that the marriage should never have gone ahead

What must be proven for an annulment in California?

Because annulment cancels or voids a legally binding marriage, the “bar” for the legal process that enables it is set high.

One of the legal grounds for annulment outlined above must be proven before a judge. In some cases, as outlined, you will also need to demonstrate that the application for annulment is made within the associated statute of limitations.

A divorce can usually proceed without such evidence being presented, as long as the divorcing couple agrees that the ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences. In this respect, therefore, an application for an annulment may be considered more complex than a divorce application.

Once the annulment process has been initiated with the necessary court documentation from one spouse, the other spouse must be served with a summons, notifying him/her of the petition for annulment. As with a divorce, the served party has 30 days to respond. Also, similarly to a divorce, the proceeding can be contested or uncontested.

If the annulment is uncontested, a court date will be issued and a judge will determine at the hearing whether to grant the annulment order.

With a legal procedure as complex and involved as an annulment, the experience of a seasoned family attorney can provide much-needed support and guidance.

If you are considering the annulment of a marriage in California, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.

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