Often surrounded by misconceptions, annulments offer a unique legal solution for ending a marriage, distinct from divorce. Specific criteria must be met in Virginia and Maryland for a marriage to be annulled. This process legally declares the marriage null, as if it never existed. Here, we’ll look at the grounds, procedures, and implications of an annulment in these states for both parties involved.

What is Annulment?

An annulment is a legal decree that a marriage is null and void, fundamentally different from a divorce. While divorce ends a legally valid marriage, an annulment declares that, due to specific circumstances, the marriage was never valid from the start. In the eyes of the law, it’s as if the marriage never happened. This can be crucial for individuals whose cultural, religious, or personal beliefs conflict with the concept of divorce. Annulments hinge on grounds that existed at the time of the marriage, such as fraud, bigamy, force, or incapacity to consent. The successful grant of an annulment erases the marital status, allowing individuals to say they were never married legally, impacting their social status and personal records differently than a divorce would. Understanding these nuances is important when considering whether an annulment is the right course of action.

Examples of Grounds for Annulment in Virginia and Maryland

  • Bigamy: In Virginia and Maryland, a marriage is voidable if one spouse was legally legally married to someone else at the time of the marriage. This ground requires proof that the first marriage was legally binding and had not been dissolved at the time of the second marriage.
  • Fraud or Deception: If one spouse has been tricked or deceived into the marriage based on significant and material facts, such as concealing a criminal history or substance abuse, the marriage can be annulled. This ground hinges on the argument that consent to the marriage was obtained under false pretenses.
  • Force or Coercion: If one party was forced or threatened into the marriage, the courts in Virginia and Maryland recognize this as a valid ground for annulment. Evidence of physical, emotional, or financial pressure exerted to obtain consent is crucial in these cases.
  • Underage Marriage: In both states, marriages involving individuals under the legal age of consent (18 years, or 16 years with parental consent) without the necessary legal permissions can be annulled. This ground recognizes that minors may lack the capacity to make a legally binding decision about marriage.
  • Mental Incapacity: If, at the time of marriage, either spouse was mentally incapable of understanding the nature and consequences of the marriage ceremony, this can be grounds for annulment. Proof of mental illness or incapacity, where the individual couldn’t consent knowingly, is required. 
  • Physical Incapacity: Annulment can be granted in cases where one spouse is physically incapable of consummating the marriage, provided this incapacity was unknown to the other spouse at the time of marriage and remains incurable.

The Annulment Process

The annulment process in Virginia and Maryland begins with filing a petition in the appropriate circuit court. This formally initiates the legal proceedings. The petitioner must accurately fill out and submit specific legal forms, including details about both spouses, the marriage, and the grounds for seeking annulment. Once the petition is filed, the next step involves serving the other spouse with the legal papers. This ensures that the other party is aware of the annulment action and has an opportunity to respond. 

A court hearing is typically scheduled, where both parties can present evidence and arguments supporting their positions. This is where the grounds for annulment must be proven to the court. It’s not just about stating the grounds; evidence must be provided to substantiate the claims. If the court is satisfied that the grounds for annulment are valid and proven, it will issue an order of annulment. This legal decree officially declares the marriage null and void. Having professional legal guidance to guide you through the legal process can be highly beneficial.

Impact of Annulment on Children 

An annulment can have significant implications on children. In Virginia and Maryland, even if a marriage is annulled, the court maintains its authority to make decisions regarding child custody and support. The best interests of the child remain the paramount concern, and the annulled status of the marriage does not diminish parental responsibilities. This means that issues like child custody, visitation rights, and child support are addressed in a manner similar to divorce proceedings.

Annulment and Finances

When it comes to finances, annulment can complicate matters. Unlike divorce, where assets and debts are divided based on equitable distribution or community property principles, annulment can lead to a different approach. Since the marriage is considered void, questions arise about the handling of assets and debts accumulated during the relationship. The courts aim to restore the parties to their pre-marital financial state, but this can be complex, especially in long-term relationships. Alimony is generally not awarded in annulment cases, as the legal stance is that the marriage never legally existed. Individuals need to understand these financial implications and seek appropriate legal counsel to ensure a fair resolution.

Contact an Experienced Fairfax Annulment Attorney

Randall J. Borden brings a wealth of knowledge and personalized attention to your annulment case. He can guide you through every step and ensure your rights and interests are protected. Contact us today for a compassionate and skilled approach to your unique situation.