Can You Get an Annulment Without the Other Person?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
Both spouses don’t need to consent to an annulment. In an annulment, a court is ruling that their marriage was not legal in the first place.
If a judge finds good reason to annul a marriage – and the judge has the support of one spouse or their representatives – then the judge will not need the consent of the other person to issue an annulment. However, in an annulment case, either party can still present relevant facts to help the court reach a fair decision.
An annulment is different from divorce because it retroactively voids a marriage agreement. It would be as if the marriage never existed in the first place. While annulment can’t erase a marriage from public records, it can have far-reaching financial, legal and emotional effects for a spouse that becomes single, instead of divorced or married.
Weddings may take two people, but for an annulment you can go it alone.
The Other Person Will Have to Know About an Annulment
Generally speaking, a husband or wife must be notified that you are filing for an annulment, whether or not they consent to it.
There’s no such thing as a “no-fault” annulment. For an annulment to take place, there must be a reason. It’s certainly possible for all parties to support an annulment. Since annulments are usually granted soon after a marriage, both spouses may agree that an annulment is best.
If you cannot locate your spouse, each state will have its own procedures or case law for what to do.
An ex-spouse will generally need to be told after annulment has been granted. In many cases, the court will have to step in and sort out custody issues and the division of property, just like in a divorce.
You Don’t Need Both Signatures for an Annulment
Even if a spouse is informed of the case, they do not have to agree to an annulment for it to be granted. You can obtain an annulment without ever getting your spouse’s signature.
A spouse does not have to participate in the annulment process if they choose not to, although this will likely not help their case.
Going Through with an Annulment: Void and Voidable Marriages
There is a high legal bar to meet for annulment. Unlike divorces, annulments can only be declared in specific circumstances. Annullable marriages fall into one of two categories.
Void Marriage: A void marriage is invalid from the start, or ab initio, by definition. If the facts fit, it’s generally easy to show that a marriage is void. Void marriages would not have met the conditions for a valid marriage no matter what.
Different states have their own specific rules for what constitutes a void marriage. Common reasons are relationships between close family members (incest), marriages entered into when one party is already married to another person (bigamy), marriage with someone below locally marriageable age, or another type of marriage that is forbidden by law (say, marrying your car).
A spouse may need to ask a court to recognize that their marriage was void for legal reasons, such as entering into a new marriage. In some circumstances, no action need be taken to show that a marriage is void. A locally-licensed lawyer can discuss relevant rules in your area.
A third party may also ask a court to recognize a marriage as void – for example, when disputing a deceased’s will during the probate process. Time limits are less of an issue here.
Voidable Marriage: A marriage that is cancellable by one of the two spouses is “voidable”. In other words, it can be made invalid if new facts are presented to the court by one of the spouses involved.
A spouse will have to petition the court to prove that their marriage should be deemed invalid. The spouse will have to detail how at least one of the reasons for an annulment occurred.
Most reasons for voidable marriage took place at the time the marriage supposedly began. These involve a spouse being intoxicated; being forced to consent; or being the victim of a detailed fraud. Other reasons, like mental incapacity or a previously hidden inability to consummate the marriage, can present themselves later.
Most states will require a spouse who wants to annul a voidable marriage to bring a case within a reasonable timeframe. The spouse will have to seek an annulment once they are able to do so, or upon first realizing that a marriage needs to be annulled (for example, if a spouse seeks an annulment decades later, the court will be less inclined to annul the marriage). This distinguishes annulments from divorce, which is the process of ending what was at one time a valid marriage.
Religious Annulments and Declarations of Nullity: Religious orders like the Catholic faith provide their own annulments. Each religion will set its own specific rules for spousal agreement here. These are handled by clergy members and are not part of the civil legal system. The end result in the eyes of a religion is similar – it is as if the marriage never existed – but this does not affect the legal status of your marriage one way or the other.
Working With or Around Your Spouse on an Annulment
Fortunately, both parties don’t have to agree to an annulment. In an annulment, a judge will recognize that a marriage was never legal in the first place. Once a court recognizes the annulment, the marriage is void.
Annulments are a highly technical legal issue, and it’s hard to obtain one unless you go about it properly. You may not need costly full representation, but an attorney should put you in a better position to represent yourself; can manage your spouse; and can be the difference between being successful instead of being dismissed. We can set up a free consultation with a locally-licensed family law attorney to discuss obtaining an annulment.