Annulment is a legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void.[1] Unlike divorce, it is usually retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place (though some jurisdictions provide that the marriage is only void from the date of the annulment). For example, this is the case in section 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales.

In strict legal terminology, annulment refers only to making a voidable marriage null; if the marriage is void ab initio, then it is automatically null, although a legal declaration of nullity is required to establish this. The process of obtaining such a declaration is similar to the annulment process. Despite its retroactive nature, children born before the annulment are considered legitimate in the United States and many other countries.

The marriage annulments are closely associated with the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches marriage is a life long commitment and cannot be dissolved through divorce, but can be annulled if invalidly entered into.


Annulment in the Catholic Church

The followers of the Catholic Church consider a marriage a valid contract entered into between a man and a woman and God. The priest oversees the wedding but the marriage is performed by the man and woman to God. In simplest terms, it is necessary that it be marriage that is contracted, that it actually be contracted (i.e., a valid ceremony/contract be performed), and that both parties enter willingly into the contract. If any of these conditions lack, then the marriage is not contracted, Divine sanction is not obtained, and there is in actual (and religious) fact no marriage. An annulment is a finding later that there was no actual marriage contracted in God's eyes, and therefore no marriage in reality, regardless of civil ordinance or appearance to humans.

Therefore, an annulment of a marriage is much more analogous to a finding that a contract of sale was invalid, and hence, that the property for sale must be considered to have never legally transferred possession, than analogous to a divorce, which is more like returning the property after a consummated sale. These four preconditions give rise to the common fourfold classifications for bases of annulment, defect of form, defect of contract, or unwilling or unable parties.

  • The contract is defective in form if the marriage ceremony is invalid, such as the case of two Catholic persons being married outside of the Catholic Church.
  • The contract is defective of contract if it was not a marriage that was contracted, such as if there was a defect of intent on either side. This can occur if either party lacked the intent to enter into a lifelong, exclusive union, open to reproduction.
  • If either party was coerced, they lacked willingness, and therefore lacked intent.
  • If either party was married to another, they were unable to enter into the contract. Also, certain relationships of blood render the parties unable to enter into contract. Also, parties of the same gender are unable to enter into contract.

A "Declaration of Nullity" is not a dissolution of a marriage, but rather a determination of whether a marriage was a sacrament (valid) or contrary in some way to Divine Law as understood by the Catholic Church or contrary to the prescriptions of canon law regulating marriage. While some may try to use an annulment to get around the "no divorce" rule (see Christian views on divorce), that is not the reason the Church gives for the availability of annulment. According to the Church, an annulment affirms the Scriptural basis of divorce and at the same time affirms that in a true marriage, a man and a woman become one flesh before the eyes of God. The Church's teaching on marriage is that it is a Sacrament and that it is only validly contracted by the two individuals, so questions may arise as to whether that person is able to contract a valid marriage. In the Western tradition, the ministers of the marriage are the two individuals themselves, and the priest is a witness for the Church.

For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged. -Catechism of the Catholic Church #1629

Canon law presumes all marriages are valid until proven otherwise (Canon 1060).

Marriages are declared null ab initio, meaning that the marriage has been essentially invalid from the beginning. This stipulation can cause concern that offspring from the marriage will be considered as illegitimate in the event of an annulment. Canon 1137 of the Code of Canon Law specifically affirms the legitimacy of children born in both recognized and putative marriages (those later declared null). Critics point to this as additional evidence that a Catholic annulment is similar to divorce — although civil laws that recognized both annulments and divorce regard the offspring of a putative marriage as legitimate.

An annulment verified by the Catholic Church is independent from obtaining a civil divorce, although before beginning a process in front of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, it has to be clear that the marriage community cannot be rebuilt. Another exception occurs in some states, which recognise to the Catholic Church the right to perform marriages that are automatically transcribed to the civil records: in those countries, the annulment may be granted the exequatur and hence induce a civil divorce. This is for instance the case in Italy.

If someone has all the signs of being married previously, he or she must get an annulment before entering into a marriage in the Catholic Church, even if the individual was not married in the Catholic Church previously. Catholics acknowledge the indissolubility of marriage for any persons who give themselves freely in the bond of marriage and recognize the marriages of other Christians in most cases.

Privilege of the Faith cases (Petrine and Pauline) are exceptions. Pauline privilege: In a case where two non-baptized are married, and one of them becomes a Christian afterwards, and the other will not get baptized and refuses to live in peace with the newly Christian partner, the marriage may be dissolved and the Christian partner is free to remarry in Church. This is not an annulment as the former marriage is not presumed to have been invalid.

A common misconception is that if a marriage is annulled, the Catholic Church is saying the marriage never took place. The parties to the marriage know that the marriage took place. The Church is saying that the marriage was not valid; the valid marriage is what did not take place.

Reasons for annulment

A reason for annulment is called a diriment impediment to the marriage. Prohibitory impediments (which no longer exist in the Latin Code, CIC83) make entering a marriage wrong but do not invalidate the marriage, such as being betrothed to another person at the time of the wedding; diriment impediments, such as being brother and sister, or being married to another person at the time of the wedding, prevent such a marriage from being contracted at all. Such unions are called putative marriages.

Diriment impediments include:

  • Consanguinity
  • Insanity precluding ability to consent
  • Not intending, when marrying, to remain faithful to the spouse (simulation of consent)
  • One partner had been deceived by the other in order to obtain consent, and if the partner had been aware of the truth, would not have consented to marry
  • Abduction of a person, with the intent to compel them to marry (known as raptus), constitutes an impediment as long as they remain in the kidnapper's power.
  • Failure to adhere to requirements of canon law for marriages, such as clandestinity
  • The couple killed the spouse of one of them in order to be free to marry.
  • The couple committed adultery.
  • The couple were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the marriage.

Some impediments can be dispensed, in which the Church exempts a couple, prior to the marriage, to the obligation to conform to the canon law. While some relationships cannot have the impediment of consanguity dispensed, a marriage can be sanctioned between cousins. This renders the marriage valid, and so non-annulable. Again, if an invalid marriage has been contracted, and the diriment impediment can be removed, a convalidation or sanatio in radice can be performed to make the marriage valid.

Annulment in New York State

The cause of action for annulment in New York State is generally fraud (DRL §140 (e)). There are other arguments; see the Statute.

Fraud generally means the intentional deception of the Plaintiff by the Defendant in order to induce the Plaintiff to marry. The misrepresentation must be substantial in nature, and the Plaintiff's consent to the marriage predicated on the Defendant’s statement. The perpetration of the fraud (prior to the marriage), and the discovery of the fraud (subsequent to the marriage) must be proven by corroboration of a witness or other external proof, even if the Defendant admits guilt (DRL §144). The time limit is three years (not one year). This does not run from the date of the marriage, but the date the fraud was discovered, or could reasonably have been discovered.

A bigamous marriage (one party was still married at the time of the second marriage) cannot be annulled —it is void ab initio (not legal from its inception). However, either party (as well as certain other parties) can petition the Court with an "Action to Declare the Nullity of a Void Marriage" (DRL §140 (a)). The Court, upon proper pleadings, renders a judgment that the marriage is void. There may be effects of marriage such as a property settlement and even maintenance if the court finds it equitable to order such relief.

Annulment in the state of Nevada

In Nevada, the qualifications for annulment[2] include: a marriage that was void at the time performed (such as blood relatives, bigamy), lacked consent (such as, underage, intoxication, insanity), or is based on some kind of dishonesty. See also Nevada Annulment Statues. To file actions based on fraud, you must have separated from your spouse as soon as you learned of the fraud.

Annulments in Nevada require a residency of at least 6 weeks, including a signed witness statement of having been living in Nevada for that amount of time.

Multiple annulments

  • Henry VIII of England had three[3][4][5][6] of his six marriages annulled. These marriages were to Catherine of Aragon (on the grounds that she had already been married to his brother); Anne Boleyn[6] (on the grounds that she had allegedly seduced him with witchcraft and was unfaithful—not wishing to execute his legal wife, he offered her an easy death if she would agree to an annulment); and Anne of Cleves[7] (on the grounds of non-consummation of the marriage and the fact that she had previously been engaged to someone else). Catherine Howard never had her marriage annulled. She had committed adultery with Thomas Culpeper during the marriage, and she had flirted with members of his court. Because of this, on November 22, 1541, it was proclaimed at Hampton Court that she had "forfeited the honour and title of Queen," and was from then on to be known only as the Lady Catherine Howard. Under this title she was executed for high treason three months later.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Statsky, William (1996). Statsky's Family Law: The Essentials. Delmar Cengage Learning. pp. 85–86. ISBN 1401848273. 
  2. ^ Nevada Annulment Qualifications
  3. ^ "The Trial of Sir Thomas More: A Chronology". 
  4. ^ Anne of Cleves: Biography, Portraits, Primary Sources
  5. ^ About Anne of Cleves
  6. ^ a b Anne Boleyn
  7. ^ Anne of Cleves
  8. ^ The Politics of Marriage: Henry VIII and his Queens. - book reviews Contemporary Review, Jan, 1995 by Michael L. Nash

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • annulment — an·nul·ment /ə nəl mənt/ n 1: the act of annulling: the state of being annulled 2: a declaration by a court that a marriage is invalid compare divorce Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam Webster. 1996 …   Law dictionary

  • Annulment — An*nul ment, n. [Cf. F. annulement.] The act of annulling; abolition; invalidation. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • annulment — To make void or to cancel. (Dictionary of Canadian Bankruptcy Terms) United Glossary of Bankruptcy Terms 2012 …   Glossary of Bankruptcy

  • annulment — (n.) late 15c., act of reducing to nothing; see ANNUL (Cf. annul) + MENT (Cf. ment). Meaning act of declaring invalid is recorded from 1864 …   Etymology dictionary

  • annulment — [n] voiding an agreement abatement, abolition, abrogation, annihilation, breakup, cancellation, countermanding, dedomiciling, deletion, discharge, dissolution, erasing, going phfft*, invalidation, negation, neutralization, nullification,… …   New thesaurus

  • annulment — [ə nul′mənt] n. 1. an annulling or being annulled 2. an invalidation, as of a marriage, by the decree of a court …   English World dictionary

  • annulment — /euh nul meuhnt/, n. 1. the act of annulling, esp. the formal declaration that annuls a marriage. 2. Psychoanal. a mental process by which unpleasant or painful ideas are abolished from the mind. [1485 95; ANNUL + MENT or < MF annulement] * * *… …   Universalium

  • annulment — n. 1) to grant an annulment 2) to obtain an annulment * * * [ə nʌlmənt] to grant an annulment to obtain an annulment …   Combinatory dictionary

  • annulment — [[t]ənʌ̱lmənt[/t]] annulments N VAR The annulment of a contract or marriage is an official declaration that it is invalid, so that legally it is considered never to have existed. ...the annulment of the elections... He may appeal to the Pope for… …   English dictionary

  • annulment — To nullify, to abolish, to make void by competent authority. An annulment differs from a divorce in that a divorce terminates a legal status, whereas an annulment establishes that a marital status never existed. Whealton v. Whealton, 67 Cal.2d… …   Black's law dictionary

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