A marriage can end one of two ways: divorce or annulment. While divorce dissolves a legal marriage, an annulment retroactively determines the marriage was void or invalid from the outset. People with religious or cultural objections to divorce may view annulment as an attractive alternative means to end their marriages. However, only in very limited circumstances will the state of New York grant an annulment.
Void and Voidable Marriages
If a union is bigamous/polygamous, incestuous, or performed by an unauthorized person, the marriage is considered “void.” Because void marriages are unlawful, they will never be recognized as valid in the state of New York, regardless of the couple’s wishes. Marriages obtained under other circumstances may be considered “voidable.” In these cases, one or both spouses must ask the court to grant an annulment and prove they have legal grounds to nullify the marriage.
Grounds for Annulment
There are only five recognized grounds for annulment in New York. A person requesting an annulment must be able to prove at least one of the following:
- At least one spouse was a minor (under the age of 18) when they were married;
- At least one spouse suffered a mental incapacity at the time of marriage that rendered them unable to consent;
- The union took place under fraud, coercion, or duress;
- At least one spouse suffers from incurable mental illness or insanity; or
- At least one spouse is unable to have sexual intercourse.
In some circumstances, the claim to annulment is “waived” even if the grounds are valid. For example, if a couple married at the age of 16 and continued to live together as husband and wife until they were 21, they would no longer have a claim since they freely cohabited after they reached the age of consent. Similarly, if one spouse defrauds the other, but the couple stays together once the fraud has been discovered, the deceived spouse no longer has a claim to annulment.
How to Get an Annulment
The process for obtaining an annulment can be more complicated than getting divorced. Unlike divorce, there are no “uncontested” annulments that allow the parties to avoid court. Each petition requires a hearing and a trial. The petitioner (the person requesting an annulment) must present evidence that proves at least one of the grounds for annulment has been met. Because the proceedings involve legal paperwork and knowledge of state laws, rules, and procedures, obtaining a lawyer with experience in annulments is recommended. An experienced Dutchess County divorce lawyer can determine if you are a good candidate for annulment and help you present your case to the court.
Contact a Professional Divorce Lawyer in Albany
For more information and legal assistance, call the Colwell Law Group, LLC. With offices in Albany and Ballston Spa, our skilled and experienced attorneys are committed to serving the communities of upstate New York. The Colwell Group concentrates on family law issues including annulments, divorce, child custody and visitation, alimony and child support, domestic violence, and prenuptial agreements. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.