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How much do you know about annulments?

When a person makes the difficult decision to end their marriage, there are a host of ways in which they may proceed. To illustrate, if the desire to divorce is mutual and the couple is in agreement about their children, finances and property, they may proceed with an uncontested divorce, while if they are on good terms and able to cooperate, they may proceed with divorce mediation.

On the other end of the spectrum, if the couple is unable to reach any sort of agreement and harbors bitterness toward one another, contested divorce is the likely forum for resolution. It's also possible, however, that a spouse in this situation may attempt to seek what is known as an annulment.

What is an annulment?

While the granting of a divorce serves to end a legally valid marriage, the granting of an annulment serves as notice that a marriage was never legally valid (i.e., it never happened in the eyes of the law).

As to why a person would choose to pursue an annulment, some reasons include wanting to avoid what they perceive to be the stigma of divorce and purely religious purposes.

(It is important to note that non-binding religious annulments can also be secured from a church or clergy.)

Can anyone seek an annulment?

In order to secure an annulment here in New York, a party must be able to prove one of the following grounds, which differ considerably from divorce:

  • One of the spouses was already married (bigamy)
  • Either spouse lacked the mental capacity to comprehend the nature, effect and consequence of the marriage
  • One of the spouse's consent to the marriage was secured by fraud, coercion or distress
  • Either spouse is unable to engage in sexual intercourse
  • Either spouse was incurably insane for a minimum of five years
  • Either spouse was under 18 at the time of the marriage

Can the ability to secure an annulment be waived?

The ability to secure an annulment can be waived under the following circumstances:

  • If the spouse who is mentally ill has a period of sound mental health and the spouses continue to cohabitate, the incurable insanity ground is waived (even if the mental illness returns).
  • If the spouse or spouses who are under 18 continue to cohabitate after reaching the age of consent, the underage 18 ground is waived.
  • If the spouse discovers that the marriage consent was secured via fraud, coercion or distress, and continues to cohabitate with the offending spouse, the invalid consent ground is waived.

What happens when an annulment is granted?

If an annulment is granted after a trial, the spouses are free to remarry.

If the couple in question had children, their legitimacy in the eyes of the law is unaffected. Furthermore, a presumption of paternity is established, such that child custody arrangements and child support obligations will need to be determined.

Here's hoping the foregoing information has proven helpful. If you have questions concerning annulment or divorce, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional. 

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