Annulment vs Divorce
We all do things we regret and, as a divorce attorney, I’ve heard it all. But don’t kid yourself, these types of misgivings are experienced by everyone. They can range from feelings of remorse for not standing up to your boss at the office to an overwhelming sense of anxiety after using your supervisor’s castigation as an excuse to take three shots of Don Julio to the dome after work. Which, of course inevitably leads to a vitriolic tirade regarding his character… on top of the bar… in front of all of your co-workers. It’s only when that smug little brown-noser from IT circulates the video she took on her smartphone of your raucous behavior that things get a little too real and you start wishing for a do-over à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Given our natural inclination to want to erase these kinds of mistakes from memory it should be no surprise that when people seek advice from a divorce attorney, the first question they ask pertains to the possibility of an annulment.
This is often a topic of confusion as it is not governed by statute or rule, but instead is a common law action in equity to terminate a void or voidable marriage. A void marriage cannot later be legally ratified under any circumstance. For instance, take Billy-Joe, your distant relative in the Appalachians that is always excluded from family holidays. The one who got hitched to his long time sweetheart Bobby-Sue… who also happened to be his niece. You know, the wedding where they toasted with Natty Light and the best man crushed the can on his head afterwards? Or the poor lady down the street who inherited her oil tycoon husband’s fortune when he kicked the bucket and later married that mysterious, yet charming, Australian fellow only to find out he had a wife and kids at home in the Outback? Yep, you guessed it, both marriages are void and subject to annulment.
Annulment of Marriage
On the other hand, a marriage is voidable when one or both of the parties is under a disability, neither party was aware of the disability at the time of the marriage and it is possible for the parties to ratify the marriage after the impediment has been removed. This is usually why the first call made is to a divorce attorney when some poor schmuck wakes up in Vegas with a pounding headache, covered in glitter, and with a shiny new wedding band on their ring finger. A voidable marriage may be annulled as long as it has not been ratified. Once ratified, a voidable marriage may not be annulled, unless the party ratifying the marriage shows he or she was not aware of all of the material facts and therefore could not have knowingly waived his or her rights.
Additional grounds for annulment are a lack of actual consent, consent wrongfully procured by force, duress, fraud, or concealment, and a lack of physical capacity to consummate the marriage. While fraud may seem like a pretty easy way to peace out on your new life partner, a marriage that has been consummated cannot be annulled on this premise. It is also important to note that only the innocent party may seek an annulment. And although your neighbor in the aforementioned example definitely got the short end of the stick, she may not be completely screwed because a court can award equitable alimony to a putative spouse in a void or voidable marriage. Alternatively, if Kangaroo Jack can show that he participated in divorce proceedings in Sydney before shacking up with his new bride; and was genuinely unaware that the technical Aussie divorce requirements had not been satisfied, the court can order the former widow to cough up the dough for spousal support. Wah Wah Wah.
Clearly the subject of annulment, and for those individuals seeking to have their indiscretion labeled as void on inception, is amorphous at best; thereby necessitating the assistance of a skilled and knowledgeable divorce attorney. By retaining a qualified family attorney for an annulment, you can gain peace of mind by knowing that while you may not be able to erase the memory of your past lapse in judgment, you certainly can move on with your life and pretend it never happened (just like all those nights in college when you “took one for the team”).