The decision to pursue an annulment in California is a serious one, particularly because it has a much different effect on the relationship in question than does a traditional divorce. An annulment effectively removes any evidence of the relationship from the record and can alter any rights you have established to any property as well as paternity rights. As a result, it is important to understand as much as possible about annulment before you begin to pursue this option.
What Is the Difference Between Annulment and Divorce?
As the standard way to end a marriage, divorce is defined as the legal dissolution of a marriage. After a divorce is complete, both parties are considered legally single and may remarry. However, the former marriage remains on record as having existed and dissolved due to irreconcilable differences or one party’s permanent legal incapacity to make decisions.
By contrast, an annulment declares that the relationship formerly considered a marriage was never a marriage in the first place. In its most basic sense, an annulment means that the marriage was invalid, and the courts will remove all evidence of the marriage ever having existed. Effectively, this means that the court decrees that the marriage never happened.
What Qualifies for an Annulment in California?
As the nature of annulment is relatively severe, in that it completely nullifies the existence of the marriage, the factors that qualify for an annulment in Orange County are strict. California recognizes several possible grounds for annulment that allow judges to grant an annulment request. The most common reasons a marriage qualifies for an annulment in California include:
- One party was under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage
- One party committed bigamy—entering into a second marriage while a prior marriage was still valid.
- One party forced the other party to get married against their wishes.
- One party committed fraud to influence the other party to get married or obtain consent for marriage. In many cases, marriage fraud involves one party marrying the other solely to remain in the United States while falsely claiming the traditional motivations for entering into the marriage.
- One or both parties were unable to consent to the marriage due to being of an “unsound mind” at the time of marriage. A common example is marrying a severely mentally incapacitated individual who cannot consent or two parties entering into marriage while severely intoxicated.
- One or both parties have an incurable physical incapacity that will not resolve at any point in the future, usually defined as the inability to participate in sexual intercourse.
- You and your spouse are related by blood.
How Long Do You Have to Get a Marriage Annulled in California?
The amount of time you have to file for an annulment is more aptly described as the statute of limitations for an annulment in Orange County. These strict timeline rules differ depending on the reason for your annulment:
- Underage marriage: If you were under age 18 on the day you were married, you must file for an annulment within four years of turning 18.
- If you are filing for an annulment because your spouse was already married when entering into your marriage, either you or the first spouse may pursue annulment at any time before the first spouse’s death.
- Forced marriage: If you are filing for an annulment because you were forced into the marriage, you must file for an annulment within the first four years of marriage.
- Fraudulent marriage: If your spouse committed fraud to marry you, you must file for an annulment within four years from the date you discovered the fraud.
- Unsound mind: If either party were of an unsound mind at the time of the marriage, you could file for annulment at any time before either you or your spouse die. If either party was unsound due to physical or mental illness, the ill party’s relative can act as conservator and sign in their stead.
- Physical incapacity: If you are filing an annulment due to your partner’s physical incapacity to maintain sexual relations, you must do so within the first four years of marriage.
What Do You Have to Prove to Get an Annulment?
To obtain an annulment, you must prove to a judge that at least one of the above situations exists. You must also prove you are filing for the annulment within the statute of limitations for the situation in question. This burden of proof, which requires you to prove a reason you need the annulment, is starkly different from divorce in California, which can proceed for grounds as simple as irreconcilable differences.
You might be wondering how long before you can get an annulment. In general, as long as you pay strict attention to the statutes of limitation above, you can file for annulment as soon as possible. Much like divorce, you must serve your spouse with a summons, notifying them of the petition for annulment, and they will have 30 days to respond. If the proceeding is uncontested, you will receive a court date; then, a judge will determine if you have the proper justification and potentially issue your annulment order.
Answer Your Annulment Questions
Providing proof that you have a valid reason for annulment can be extremely difficult and is best pursued with an experienced attorney’s aid. With that in mind, consider speaking with a qualified Orange County divorce and family law attorney to build an understanding of how to proceed with your annulment case. The Law Offices of Dorie A. Rogers have been providing Orange County residents with quality representation for over 30 years; call or reach out online to request a free consultation regarding your case.