In the realm of family law, marriage annulment is one of those oft’ misunderstood concepts—probably because it’s not used very much.
Similar to divorce, an annulment makes a declaration about the legal status of a marriage. Unlike divorce, however, annulment doesn’t end a marriage. Rather, it completely erases it from existence. (It’s confusing, we know.)
To help you out, here’s what you need to know about marriage annulment in California—how it differs from divorce—and what the Provinziano team can do to help figure out which is right for you.
Marriage Annulment vs. Divorce
It’s easy to see why people often confuse marriage annulment and divorce; after all, both processes are used to make end-of-relationship determinations about marriage, and both require some kind of judicial process, in order to execute.
The two, however, have very different results.
In a divorce, spouses are attempting to break apart a legally valid marriage. Here, the focus is on splitting one life into two, and settling important matters like marital property, child custody, and alimony, with arguments centering on how that should be done.
The arguments in a marriage annulment, on the other hand, are fundamentally different. In this situation, it’s not just about breaking up. Instead, at least one spouse is attempting to argue that the marriage was never valid to begin with.
Hence, if an annulment is approved, it will be as though the marriage never existed in the first place.
While reasons vary, many people are drawn to annulment because of its simplicity; attracted by the idea of a quick and easy fix to an otherwise complicated divorce situation.
For example, some of annulment’s benefits include:
- No six-month residency requirement.
- No mandatory, six-month waiting period.
- No division of marital property (property automatically reverts back to pre-marriage status).
- The possibility of putative spouse benefits.
- Invalidating the terms of a prenuptial agreement you don’t like.
- The opportunity to sever a bad relationship, without violating religious or moral beliefs.
Despite these perks, getting an annulment won’t necessarily mean your break up will be problem-free—especially since it essentially means invalidating a lot of inherent protections that come with being married.
Hence, even if you qualify for an annulment, it’s often better to simply file for divorce, instead.
How to Get a Marriage Annulment in CA
Initiating an annulment isn’t too different from filing for divorce. To get one, you’ll need to follow these five, basic steps:
- Hire an attorney.
- Complete your annulment paperwork.
- Submit completed forms to your county clerk.
- Notify your spouse via proper service channels.
- Attend your hearing.
While attorneys are never required in family law, we can’t stress how vital it is to have one for this process—especially since you’re dealing with such important, personal rights.
As a general rule, the most difficult part about achieving an annulment, will be convincing the judge that you have adequate grounds to request such a determination.
Grounds for Annulment
The court won’t grant an annulment, just because you ask. Instead, they’ll want to know why, so they can determine whether or not the request is appropriate.
This “why” is known as your “grounds.” Similar to divorce grounds, this reasoning must be listed in your initial paperwork, and supported by supplemental documentation that explains (in as much detail as possible), why the court should grant your request.
According to California family law, the following are permissible grounds for requesting a marriage annulment:
- The couple is related by blood.
- One spouse was already married before entering into a second marriage.
- The person requesting the annulment was not eighteen at the time of the marriage.
- One spouse used fraud in order to get the other’s consent.
- One spouse lacked the mental capacity to marry.
- One spouse used force or undue influence to get the other to marry.
Generally speaking, meeting the grounds for annulment is one of the most difficult parts of the process—however, it’s not the only one.
Statute of Limitations
Another potential annulment stumbling block is California’s statute of limitations.
In legal speak, “statute of limitations” is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit, after an offense has occurred. If you don’t bring a case within this chunk of time, then you’re out of luck, and won’t be able to file, later on.
In California, the statute of limitations for a marriage annulment varies, according to what grounds you file under. However, most will require you to file within four years of either the marriage, or from the date you found out about the offense.
Legal Effects of Annulment
If your annulment is approved, then this means your marriage was void from the start. In other words, you were never actually married. As a result, everything that followed (i.e. property, kids, debt, etc.) was just the result of a regular relationship.
Unfortunately, this also means that you lose a lot of the protections that automatically come with marriage, so sorting out the legalities of your breakup can get complicated.
Annulment and Property
In an annulment you aren’t entitled to marital property rights. Hence, instead of splitting things equally between partners, everything reverts back to its pre-marriage state, with separate property and debt assigned to its accompanying spouse.
The only exception to this, is if the filing spouse qualifies for punitive spouse benefits.
Putative spouse benefits are granted in situations where one spouse honestly believed the marriage was valid (often in cases of fraud or underage marriages). In these situations, a judge may divide property the same way they would for a married couple, and afford the wronged spouse all the accompanying protections.
The putative spouse bar can be a difficult one to clear, however, so it’s best not to rely on them as your only reason for choosing annulment.
Annulment and Children
California’s presumption of parenthood assumes that a child born to married parents is the biological offspring of the spouses in that marriage. In this scenario, both parents automatically assume parental rights immediately upon the child’s birth, without the need for formal legalities.
An unmarried father, however, isn’t typically afforded this presumption, and usually has to establish himself as the legal father, before getting parental rights.
In an annulment, parents are technically unmarried. That being said, courts won’t typically overturn this parental presumption. Instead, visitation and parenting plans are drawn up under the assumption that each partner is the child’s biological parent.
Annulment and Alimony
Alimony refers to payments made by one spouse to the other, post-divorce. This money works a lot like child support, and is often ordered when one spouse is financially dependent on the other. (Say, for example, if a stay at home dad sacrificed career opportunities to care for his children while married, and needed assistance, after divorce.)
Unfortunately, unless a judge grants punitive spouse benefits, neither partner would qualify for alimony in an annulment situation.
Because of this—and the loss of other martial protections—many couples choose to simply file for divorce, instead of annulment, even when they might qualify for the later.
Are You Thinking About a Marriage Annulment in California?
Oftentimes, marriage annulment is an emotional response to a current relationship; the manifestation of a knee jerk reaction to put as much distance between that phase of your life as possible. Most of the time, however, it’s not always the best choice, for legal purposes.
For more questions about marriage annulment in California—and how one might look, in your situation—we want to hear from you. Call Provinziano & Associates at (310) 820-3500, or get in touch online, and let us help determine if annulment is right for you.