While people are generally familiar with the term “annulment”, many have incorrect perceptions about what it is and how it is achieved.
What is a marriage annulment?
An annulment literally means “to make void”. The key difference between a divorce and an annulment is that a divorce dissolves a marriage while an annulment establishes that a marital status never existed. In the eyes of the law, an annulled marriage stands as if never performed.
While some prefer annulments for religious reasons, others are looking to avoid property rights they would get in divorce. In annulment, a former spouse can’t claim certain benefits from the other party, including insurance or retirement benefits.
What are the laws for a marriage annulment in Florida?
While Florida does not have annulment statutes, decisions from appellate courts have established precedents that act as a guide.
It is important to note that Florida makes a distinction between void and voidable marriages.
- Void marriages are marriages that were invalid from the moment they started.
- Voidable marriages are marriages that weren’t necessarily void from the outset.
That said, the appellate courts have identified grounds for having a marriage annulled.
Reasons the marriage is void:
- It's bigamous (a spouse is legally married to more than one person)
- It’s incestuous (the couple is closely related by blood or marriage)
- The union consists of two partners of the same sex or two underage people
- One spouse is permanently mentally incapacitated and unable to consent to marriage.
Reasons the marriage is voidable:
- One of the spouses lacked the capacity to consent to marriage because at the time of the ceremony, the spouse was suffering from a serious but temporary mental problem or was under the influence of intoxicating alcohol or drugs.
- One of the spouses used fraudulent acts or misrepresentations to trick the other spouse into entering the marriage.
- One or both spouses only entered into the marriage because they were under duress (defined as extreme coercion or possibly even force).
- One spouse is underage and entered the marriage without the consent of a parent or guardian.
- One spouse is impotent and the other spouse didn't know it at the time of marriage.
- The marriage is voidable because one or both spouses entered into the marriage as a joke.
The exception to many of these reasons is if the person seeking annulment is aware of the defects and nevertheless confirms the marriage. In this situation, the complaining party has waved his right to contest the contract and an annulment will not be granted.
How to get an annulment?
A court order is used to officially annul a void marriage. (While a void marriage was invalid at inception, it is recommended to obtain a court order to annual one annulling it as well.)
Steps in an annulment
- To begin, you will need to file and serve a petition for annulment. (Annulment papers must be filed in Florida’s circuit courts.) The petition needs to explain if the marriage is void or voidable and why.
- If the other party disagrees with the petition, they have the right to file and serve a counterclaim for dissolution of marriage. (If the defendant prevails on the counterclaim, the court would grant you a divorce, not an annulment.)
The State presumes that marriages are legal and valid. Therefore, those wishing to obtain an annulment face a steep burden of proof for an annulment. The process of annulment and steps involved can be very specific and complex. Therefore, if you believe you quality for an annulment, it is important to retain the services of a lawyer experienced in the area early on in the process.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss divorce in Florida, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A.The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. or call 561-478-0312.