Why Annulments are Rare

In Separation & Divorce by Elizabeth Stephenson

When most of us think “annulment”, we think of ill-advised and impulsive Las Vegas weddings. Or maybe we think of quick celebrity marriages, like when Renee Zellweger and Kenney Chesney got married, then annulled their marriage a few months later. Essentially, there is a common belief that annulments are a quick way of ending a short marriage; or, that an annulment is not the same thing as a divorce, creating less of a stigma and making them more desirable than divorce. It may surprise you that annulments are incredibly rare, especially in North Carolina, where there are very limited circumstances in which one can be obtained.

Grounds for Annulment

The North Carolina legislature has set forth the limited circumstances in which a couple’s marriage may be “void” or “voidable”. The difference between the two is that a void marriage is an absolutely unlawful marriage and cannot be transformed into a legal one by any acts of the couple. In contrast, a voidable marriage may be improper, but can be transformed into a valid marriage based on the actions of the couple. The legal effect of an annulment is that in the eyes of the law, the marriage never existed.

A marriage is automatically void if bigamy is involved. In other words, if one of the spouses is already in a legal marriage at the time of a second marriage, the second marriage is invalid. Although a bigamous marriage is automatically void, it is still wise to obtain an order of annulment in order to clarify that the marriage does not exist.

The following circumstances are considered voidable, meaning a person can petition a court for annulment:

  1. If a couple are “nearer of kin than first cousins”, such as double cousins, siblings, parent/child, or aunt/uncle and nephew/niece, then the marriage is subject to annulment.
  2. If either spouse is below the age of sixteen. However, there is a limited exception to this in the circumstance that a girl below the age of sixteen is pregnant.
  3. If either spouse is physically impotent, the marriage may be voidable by annulment.
  4. Mental capacity. If either spouse lacks the ability to understand a marriage or enter into a contract at the time of the marriage.
  5. False belief that a woman is pregnant. If a couple gets married on the woman’s representation that she is pregnant, but separate within 45 days and no child is born within ten months, then the marriage is voidable.

Voidable marriages are not subject to annulment if the married couple continues to cohabitate and if they have a child together. If these events occur, the court can no longer annul a marriage and the couple must obtain a divorce to end their union.

Contact New Direction Family Law

If you believe that you qualify for an annulment and want to proceed, contact New Direction Family Law. While annulments are rare, we will listen to you and help you determine whether an annulment or divorce is appropriate for your circumstances. We take great pride in providing our clients with professional, compassionate legal advocacy and will help guide you toward your new direction. Call New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or contact us online at our website.