Annulment of a marriage ends it, just as a divorce does. But the grounds and context are different. A divorce is the legal termination of the marital relationship – the end of something that validly existed. Annulment, on the other hand, declares that a marriage was never valid because of circumstances at the time of the vows that legally prevented it.
A marriage may be completely void and invalid, meaning that technically the parties are not legally married. Still, usually people in this situation will go through the court process of annulment. Or the marriage may be voidable – a valid marital relationship until a court annuls it.
Florida courts look at the law where the marriage happened to analyze its validity.
Extreme examples of grounds for annulment are obvious circumstances like a bigamous or incestuous marriage. Other grounds may include:
- Mental incapacity to enter marriage, including mental illness or developmental disability
- Physical incapacity
- Hidden STD
- Intoxication from alcohol, drugs or medication preventing understanding of marriage ceremony
- Duress that forces entry into marriage because free will dissolves under undue pressure from another person
- Spouse is an imposter
- Fraud, deceit or concealment about an aspect of the marital relationship that induces the other party to say “I do”
- And others
Do not wait to start annulment proceedings
There are reasons to seek annulment promptly if a spouse learns of circumstances previously unknown to them that could form the basis to annul the marriage. These situations can be factually specific and complex.
First, evidence can get stale and disappear from the time surrounding the marriage ceremony. Crucial to proving what happened may be the availability of written documentation or witness recollections, which the spouse should immediately seek and preserve.
Second, if a spouse discovers grounds for annulment and does nothing for a long time, the court may deny their annulment petition based on laches. Laches is a basis on which the court may deny legal relief because the person seeking it sat on it for months, even years, making no attempt to take the action now requested.
An attorney can answer questions about annulment and whether it may be right for you or about how to respond to a petition for annulment against you.