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Annulling a marriage in California

Some people in Sacramento who want to end their marriage often ask about the annulling the marriage instead of obtaining a divorce. The difference between a divorce and marital nullity (the technically correct term) is relatively straightforward. A divorce is a judicial proceeding that ends a marriage that was valid in all respects. An annulment is a court order that the marriage was never valid. In other words an annulment treats the marriage as though it never happened.

A marriage can be ended by a divorce for almost any reason. An annulment, on the other hand, can only be granted for a specific list of reasons. The list includes incest (parties are close blood relatives), bigamy (the marriage was knowingly entered into by a spouse who was legally married to another person), underage (one or both of the parties was younger than 18 at the time of the marriage), existence of a prior marriage, unsound mind, fraud, force and incapacity (one of the spouses lacked the mental capacity to enter into the marriage).

Because an annulment is a declaration that the marriage was never valid, some of the rights commonly asserted in a divorce have no place in an annulment. The court will not divide property or award custody of the children. Also, the court cannot order spousal support. Other portions of California law dealing with the welfare of children may address these issues.

A common question is whether an annulment granted by a church, usually the Roman Catholic Church, is valid if no civil annulment was granted. If the annulment is based upon the same grounds that are recognized by the state of California, the annulment will be accepted.

Anyone contemplating an annulment may wish to contact an experienced divorce attorney for advice on both eligibility for an annulment and the legal effects of declaring a marriage a nullity rather than obtaining a divorce.

Source: FindLaw, "How Marriage Annulments Differ from Divorces and the Grounds for Obtaining a Marriage Annulment," accessed on Dec. 18, 2017

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