Can I File for an Annulment Instead of a Divorce?

Most people understand the requirements of obtaining a marriage license or filing for a divorce, but annulments can confuse many filers. In California, married couples can file for either a divorce or annulment if they wish to end their union. Ending a marriage through a divorce does not provide the same type of dissolution as an annulment. Where a divorce is filed and approved, the marriage is legally terminated, but an approved annulment removes a marriage from the legal record as if it never existed. If an annulment completely erases a marriage from existence, then why doesn’t every divorcing couple seek one? The answer is simple, not every couple qualifies for an annulment.

Qualification for an Annulment

Annulments are only granted when the petitioning couple meets the filing requirements set forth in state law.

According to California law, an individual may file for an annulment on the following grounds:

  • Blood Relatives: Marriage between blood relations is considered illegal. If parties in a marriage find they are related by blood, the marriage can be dissolved through annulment on the grounds that the union is invalid.

  • Bigamy: Persons are not legally permitted to have more than one spouse at a time, so if a second or subsequent marriage is entered before the prior ends, the newest union is considered illegal and voidable.

  • Fraud: Either spouse may file for an annulment if either is suspected of fraudulently engaging another party by marrying.

  • Physical or Mental Incapacity: A mental incapacity that prevents either party from understanding the constraints, seriousness, and scope of what it means to be married. Physical impairments that preclude the successful union and creation of a child can also be grounds for an annulment.

  • Force: Being forced to marry is fair grounds to petition the court for an annulment.

When Can I File for an Annulment?

If you are considering an annulment, California has time limits that could prevent you from filing. The statute of limitations is based on the grounds the filing party plans to use to seek an annulment.

If you are seeking an annulment in California, the statute of limitation applies as follows:

  • Bigamy: Filers seeking an annulment on the grounds of bigamy can file as long as the other party in the marriage is living.

  • Force: Filers seeking an annulment to dissolve a marriage on the grounds of forcible union, it must be filed and requested within 4 years of the date of the marriage.

  • Fraud: A filer may seek an annulment based on grounds of fraud if filed and requested within 4 years of discovering the fraud.

  • Mental Defect or Incapacity: An annulment may be requested on the grounds of mental incapacity or defect at any time before the death of the other party in the marriage.

  • Physical Incapacity: An incurable physical incapacity is grounds for annulment if requested within 4 years of the start of the marriage.

  • Underage: Filers seeking an annulment on the grounds of underage marriage must file a request within 4 years of the underage party’s 18th birthday.

Annulment Award, Denial, and Special Circumstances

Once your annulment is approved, your marriage is void as if it never happened. You will still need to complete divorce processes, like asset and debt division and any custody issues if the marriage involves children. Issues of child support, custody, and visitation can be complicated, so you may need to seek legal assistance to ensure your interests are protected. If you have concerns about the parentage of your children or how your annulment will impact the rights and obligations of your former spouse, an attorney can help you navigate these complex legal issues. Call us today at (818) 839-2533 to schedule a consultation.