How to Obtain a Civil Annulment

Updated 04/21/19
paolomartinezphotography/CreativeRM/Getty

If it's time for your marriage to end, you might be wondering, do I seek a divorce or an annulment? While you've probably heard others talk about divorce, annulments are more rare, and there are a lot of misconceptions about them. People often think that obtaining a civil annulment is easier than getting a divorce, which is not the case. Civil annulments are often more difficult to obtain because civil annulments are much more narrowly defined than a divorce. Here's a guide to civil annulments and how to obtain one.

The Basics of a Civil Annulment

A civil annulment states that a marriage never existed. The grounds for receiving a civil annulment vary from state to state and country to country. Generally, there is a tight timeline for receiving a civil annulment and an annulment action usually has to be filed within two years of the marriage date. The civil annulment is not to be confused with a religious annulment, which is granted by the church and does not end a legal marriage.

Reasons for a Civil Annulment

While there is a short window of marriage when an annulment can be sought, being married only a short time is generally not grounds for an annulment. Typical reasons for seeking a civil annulment of a marriage include bigamy, incest, fraud, insanity, a mental disability, impotence or parties married under the legal age of consent. Other reasons include the marriage wasn't consummated, a spouse was incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, a misunderstanding, concealment, duress or incompetence. Basically, if there was a reason your marriage should never have been legal from the start, an annulment can right the wrong.

Child Support in an Annulment 

Unlike in a divorce case, when seeking a civil annulment, a spouse must prove the other spouse's actions voided the marriage. A civil annulment can only be granted by a judge, not a religious leader. Also unlike a divorce case, in an annulment, child support or alimony are not considered—if your marriage is invalidated you can't ask for spousal support. Children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate, the need for child support only extends to spouses in marriages undergoing divorce. A marriage is not legally impacted by a religious, canonical annulment received through the Catholic church.

Cohabitation in an Annulment

Some states have strict guidelines about living with one another when you are seeking an annulment. In many cases, cohabitation could be grounds for not granting an annulment if it's voluntary. In some states, living together can mean as little as one voluntary night together, so read up on your area's rules to be sure.

What Now?

If you think you have grounds for an annulment, be sure to consult an attorney. This article is not legal advice. Reach out to an attorney familiar with marriage and family law in your area, and discuss your personal circumstances with them to gain the best legal advice regarding civil annulments. While you may have started your quest to end your marriage via an annulment, you may find your case is better suited for a divorce. A qualified attorney will be able to walk you through the steps of either path you need to take.

Related Stories