Getting a Marriage Annulled
Getting a Marriage Annulled
By Maury D. Beaulier, Esq.
What is an
What is the basis for an
Who may annul?
In our modern world, an annulment
tends to be more a creature of religion than of law. Annulments are rarely
granted and when they are, very specific circumstances must exist.
Often people believe that they may annul a marriage
simply because it was of a very short duration. That is not the case. To annul
a marriage, a person must demonstrate that the marriage is void
because it is prohibited by the laws of the State or is voidable
because the intent to enter into a civil contract was not present at the time
that the parties married.
What is an
Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a
woman. As a result, the contract is legally binding so long as the requisite
elements of the contract were present when the parties married. If the elements
of the contract were not present, the marriage may be annulled. That means, the
marriage is treated as if it never existed. For all purposes, it is considered
null and void.
is the effect of an Annulment?
In some states, an annulment may result in the harsh
result of extinguishing interests in property acquired during the purported
marriage. In such states, each party would be entitled to the property in their
own name. This is not true under Minnesota law.
In fact, Minnesota recognizes the concept of a
"putative spouse." Any person who has cohabited with another under a
good faith belief that the person was legally married acquires the same rights
conferred by the divorce statute including property rights and the right to
spousal maintenance. These rights terminate when a person discovers that they
may not be legally married. It is important to remember that in the case of
Bigamy (more than one spouse), the second putative spouse's rights do not
supercede the rights acquired of the legal spouse (the first spouse). However,
the Court may apportion property, maintenance, and support rights among the
claimants as appropriate "in the circumstances and in the interests of justice."
is the basis for an Annulment?
An annulment may be granted when a marriage is
automatically void under the law for public policy reasons or voidable by one
party when certain requisite elements of the marriage contract were not present
at the time of the marriage.
A marriage is automatically void and is automatically
annulled when it is prohibited by law. Under Minnesota's statutes a lawful
marriage may be contracted when the following requisites are met:
only when a license has been obtained as provided by
when the marriage is contracted in the presence of
and solemnized by one authorized, or whom one or
both of the parties in good faith believe to be authorized, by law to marry
- only between persons of the opposite sex; and
Any marriage occurring after April 26, 1941, without
these elements is considered null and void. Additionally, Minnesota Statutes
specifically prohibits a nullifies the following marriage without any decree of
dissolution or other legal proceedings :
- Bigamy. A marriage entered into before
the dissolution of an earlier marriage of one of the parties becomes final,
as provided in section
or by the law of the jurisdiction where the dissolution was granted;
- Interfamily Marriage. A marriage
between an ancestor and a descendant, or between a brother and a sister,
whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood or by adoption;
- Marriage between Close Relatives. A
marriage between an uncle and a niece, between an aunt and a nephew, or
between first cousins, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole
blood, except as to marriages permitted by the established customs of
aboriginal cultures; and
- Same Sex Marriage. A marriage between
persons of the same sex, a marriage entered into by persons of the same
sex, either under common law or statute even if the same sex
marriage was recognized by another state or foreign jurisdiction. Any
rights granted by the foreign jurisdiction recognizing the same sex
marriage are unenforceable in the state of Minnesota.
A voidable marriage is one where an annulment is not
automatic and must be sought by one of the parties. Generally, an annulment may
be sought by one of the parties to a marriage if the intent to enter into the
civil contract of marriage was not present at the time of the marriage, either
due to mental illness, intoxication, duress or fraud. Minnesota Statutes set
out the following circumstances under which a marriage may be annulled by
- Lack of Mental Capacity. A party lacked
capacity to consent to the marriage at the time the marriage was solemnized,
either because of mental incapacity or infirmity and the other party at the
time the marriage was solemnized did not know of the incapacity; or because
of the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances; or
because consent of either was obtained by force or fraud and there was no
subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the parties;
- Lack of Physical Capacity to have Intercourse.
A party lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by
sexual intercourse and the other party at the time the marriage was
solemnized did not know of the incapacity. This is considered a material
term of the civil contract of marriage;
- A Party was Under the Age of Consent. A
party was under the age for marriage established by Minnesota law.
Minnesota Statutes requires that a person must have reached
the full age of 18 years to marry. Moreover, a 16 year old may marry only if
they have the consent of the person's parents, guardian, or the court.
A marriage by an underage party may become legally binding
and incapable of annulment if the cohabitation of the parties as husband and
wife continues voluntarily after the person reached the age of consent.
Similarly, a marriage involving an insane person may not be annulled if the
person with the mental disability is restored to capacity and the parties
continued to freely cohabitate as husband and wife.
Who may annul a marriage and when may an Action for Annulment be Brought?
Under no circumstances may an annulment be granted after
the death of either party to the marriage. Additionally, there are some
timelines that must be followed in order to seek an annulment. In other words,
even if the grounds exist to grant an annulment, the annulment may be refused if
the party seeking it does not act quickly.
Minnesota Statutes sets out who may annul and the
timelines for annulment as follows:
- If a party suffers from a mental incapacity, the
marriage may be annulled:
- by either party; or
- by the legal representative of the party who lacked capacity to
so long as the action is brought no later than 90 days after the
petitioning party obtained knowledge that the person was mentally
- If one of the parties lacks the physical capacity to
have sexual intercourse, and the disability is not known to the other party,
the marriage may be annulled by either party no later than one year after
the petitioning person obtained knowledge of the physical incapacity;
- If one party is under the legal age of consent, an
action to annul the marriage may be brought by the underaged party or the
the party's parent or guardian so long as the action is brought before the
time the underaged party reaches the age of consent.
In What Types of
Cases have Annulments been Granted?
There have been very few cases that expand or
define under what circumstances an annulment may be granted for a mental
disability, duress, force or fraud. However, cases in other jurisdiction have
do provide some guidance.
Marriage and Having Children
In 1991, the Superior
Court of New Jersey granted an annulment to a wife where the husband told
the wife after marriage that he wanted to have children despite the fact
that he had signed an antenuptial agreement before marriage stating that he
did not wish to have children. The court felt that this constituted fraud
relating to an essential element of the marriage contract. V.J.S. v.
M.J.B., 249 N.J. super, 318, 592 A. 2d 328 (1991).
Former Spouse Still Alive.
The Supreme Court of
Illinois granted an annulment to a husband when the wife represented that
her former husband had died. Her husband was , in fact, alive and known to
be living by the wife at the time of the representation. Wolfe v.
Wolfe, 76 Ill. 92, 389 N.E.2d 1143 (1979).
Married to Get Immigration Status
An annulment was
denied in New Jersey where the husband claimed his foreign wife married him
to enter the United Stated. The Court primarily based its determination on
the fact that the husband presented insufficient evidence to prove his
claim. Oatel v. Navitlal, 265 N.J.Super.
402, 627 A.2d 683 (1992).
Spouse an Epileptic
144 Minn. 95, 174 N.W. 611 (Minn. 1919).
- In Minnesota, the Court refused to annul a
marriage where the wife was an epileptic and at the time of the marriage the
condition was unknown to the husband. The Court reasoned that there was no
concealment of the fact that the wife suffered from the disability,. In
fact, the husband never asked her. As a result, there was no fraud..
Moreover, epilepsy is not a condition which would allow a marriage to be
annulled. Behsman v. Behsmand,
Previously Determined to be Insane
In 1925, the
Supreme Court in Minnesota declined to allow an annulment where a husband
discovered that his wife had previously been committed to a mental hospital
as insane. After the marriage she had a relapse and was again committed as
insane. The Court reasoned that there was no fraud because the wife did not
actively conceal her past condition. The husband simply never asked "Hey
honey, have you ever been insane?"
Robertson v. Roth,
501, 204 N.W. 329 (Minn. 1925).
Concealment of Venereal Disease
143 S.W.2d 349
(Miss. App. 1940).
- In Missouri, the Court of Appeals ruled that
a wife's fraudulent concealment that she had a venereal disease was grounds
for an annulment so long as there was an active misrepresentation of the
fact. In short, the husband asked. Watson v. Watson,
219 (Missouri 1983).
- In 1983 the Missouri Supreme Court annulled
a marriage upon the Petition of the wife where the husband failed to
disclose that he could not engage in normal sexual relationships and that
his only sexual activities were if an "unnatural type." The Court did not
bother to elaborate further in its decision. Kshaiboon v. Kshaiboon,
The Minnesota Supreme
Court allowed the annulment of a marriage in 1974 where the husband failed
to disclose that he was impotent. Darrell v. Darrell,
298 Minn. 470, 215 N.W.2d
789 (Min. 1974).
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