Several options exist for ending a marriage, and some California couples may wish to avoid the difficulties of divorce by pursuing an annulment instead. An annulment declares the marriage never legally existed. If you secure an annulment and someone asks if you have ever been married, you can truthfully answer “no.”
Every state sets guidelines for annulments and divorce, and California allows annulments under one of two conditions: either the marriage was never legal or valid, or it “could be determined” that the marriage was invalid.
What Is an Invalid Marriage?
A couple must meet specific criteria to qualify as married in California. State law requires the spouses to be over the age of 18 (unless they have parental consent to marry younger), and neither of them can already be legally married. Even if one has separated from a previous spouse, he or she cannot remarry until the previous marriage has been legally dissolved. Both parties must have valid state-issued photo IDs and reside in California, and at least one witness must sign the marriage license.
Marriage is invalid when it fails to meet the state’s criteria for a valid marriage.
- Bigamy, or marriage to multiple people, is illegal. A marrying spouse must completely finalize a divorce before marrying someone else.
- Marriage under duress or coercion is illegal. Both spouses must agree to marry of their own free will with a sound mind.
- Underage marriage (such as when one or both spouses lie about age) would also be an invalid marriage.
- Unsound mind also qualifies for annulment. If one of the spouses suffers from an incurable mental illness at the time of marriage, this could qualify as legal grounds for an annulment.
- Fraud can invalidate a marriage if one or both spouses entered the marriage under false pretenses.
- Physical disability. Marriage requires physical consummation. If one spouse has a physical disability that prevents marital relations, this can be grounds to invalidate the marriage.
Many people mistakenly believe it is possible to secure an annulment just because the marriage only lasted a short time. The longevity of a marriage has little to do with its validity. Even if a couple was only married one week before deciding to divorce, if the marriage occurred on legal grounds it is a valid marriage and not eligible for annulment under California law.
Proceeding With an Annulment
Once one or both spouses determine their marriage is invalid, they can proceed with a petition for annulment. The party seeking the annulment must prove the grounds for annulment before a California court will grant one. If one spouse wishes to end the marriage but annulment is not an option, they must seek a divorce or legal separation.
Filing for an annulment follows an almost identical process to filing for divorce or separation, and even uses the same paperwork. The person filing simply checks different boxes on these forms to select an annulment as opposed to a divorce or separation. The spouse filing will need to serve the annulment papers to the other spouse, and then the two will need to attend an annulment hearing. The judge will review the petition for annulment and assess the grounds for it and either grant or deny the annulment.
Some couples choose annulment simply to seek a legal end to an invalid marriage or to avoid the typical complications of divorce. A marriage ending in annulment generally leads to little reason for alimony or spousal support, making property division easier. However, if the couple with the annulled marriage had children together, they will still need to come up with a child custody agreement just as they would have in divorce.