1. Background – The Marriage Contract
To understand annulments, one must understand the concept of marriage. Marriage is rooted in contract law. A marriage is deemed to be a contract entered between two competent and consenting adults. With that contract (as is the case with most other contracts) comes certain rights/benefits, obligations and liabilities that both contracting spouses usually share, including the duty to support one another (financially, emotionally, etc.); the duty to support one’s children; the duty to pay certain debts and obligations; and the benefits of sharing in certain resources and assets (e.g. each spouse’s earnings, real and personal property, etc.) during the contracting period.
2. What is an Annulment?
What an annulment of marriage attempts to do is declare that marriage contract void from its inception, as if it never happened. The effect of a judgment of nullity of marriage is to restore the parties to the status of unmarried persons, akin to the marriage having never taken place. If individuals are restored to the status of unmarried persons, this might also have severe consequences as it relates to the division of certain assets and/or debts. If one party is not on title to certain real or personal property, he/she may not be able to share in the division of that particular asset; be able to seek temporary and/or permanent spousal support; or ask that certain debts incurred in his/her name solely during the marriage (what would otherwise be community property debt in the course of a dissolution of marriage) be divided equally (50-50) by the parties. If individuals were permitted to undo contracts so easily, what effect would contracts have?
3. What are the Grounds for Annulments?
Usually, a marriage is voidable and may be annulled if any of the six grounds for annulment existed at the time of the marriage: (1) Minority (Fam.C. 2210(a)) (2) Bigamy (Fam.C. 2201) (3) Unsound mind (Fam.C. 2210(c)) (4) Fraud (Fam.C. 2210(d)) (5) Force (Fam.C. 2210(e)) (6) Physical incapacity (Fam.C. 2210(f)) Litigants must be prepared to “prove-up” the legal basis to secure a judgment of nullity otherwise judgment for nullity of marriage will be denied. With that in mind, litigants should also make sure to petition for alternative relief in the event that judgment for nullity is denied.