As a domestic relations attorney, every so often I meet with a person who wants to know if he or she can annul their marriage. It’s a term that entered pop culture and developed misconceptions of it’s requirements as well as it’s utility. I’m sure that you have heard a story about someone getting marry while intoxicated, and as long as they haven’t consummated the marriage (wink wink), then they can easily get an annulment. Well, like most things, it’s not that simple.
What is An Annulment?
First, let’s start by answering this question. Where a divorce ends a marriage, an annulment is a court order stating that the marriage never existed. It may have looked like a marriage. Maybe the couple had a ceremony in a church, with both their families. Maybe they took photos and drove away with rice in their hair and tin cans tied to the bumper. Maybe they filed out the proper paperwork and filed in appropriately. They could have bought a house, had children, and filed taxes together for several years. But if the Court awards an annulment, then they were never married. It looked like a marriage, quacked like a marriage, but in the end, there was no marriage.
In Alabama, the requirements for marriage can be reduced to just capacity and consent. Without both, then the marriage is voidable, i.e. subject to an annulment. Capacity relates to a person’s ability to enter into marriage. In order for anyone to become wed in Alabama, they must be old enough, of sound mind, and not related to the other party within a prohibitive degree. Additionally, one cannot enter into a marriage if they are still married to someone else.
What if There Was No Consent to Marry?
When it comes to consent, in this context, I am referring to a lack of fraud. While I have not researched the scenario of annulling a literal shotgun wedding, I would imagine that a marriage entered into under duress of physical harm would likewise be voidable. For a marriage to be annulled on the basis of fraud, the court must find that the fraud was perpetuated at the time of the marriage and points to the essence of the marriage. The Court has found the following reasons insufficient to annul a marriage: false claims of pregnancy, misrepresentations of age,
barrenness, lack of parental consent, and marriage solely for financial gain. If you are claiming that you were fraudulently induced into marrying your spouse, then you must show that there was an immediate disavowal and a refusal to perform the marital duties. Evidence of a lack of
cohabitation and/or consummation may bolster your claim, as living together with a sexual relationship would be unusual following an immediate disavowal of the marriage vows.
This brings me to the utility of an annulment, of which there is very little. Just as in a divorce, the court can divide property, award custody, and child support.
What’s The Point of an Annulment?
Mostly emotional. The injured party to fraudulent inducement feels tricked, and maybe dumb for believing the other party. They want to undo what has happened. A lot of people hate the idea of being divorced, as they feel there is a stigma associated. For some people, religion is the reason to annul rather than divorce. I have even seen people worried that multiple divorces would harm their careers.
In the end, very few people qualify for an annulment. Because they are so rare, they are often met with more scrutiny than a divorce. If you do not meet the criteria for an annulment, divorce is an available remedy.