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A judgment by a court that retroactively invalidates a marriage to the date of its formation.

An annulment differs from a Divorce, a court order that terminates a marriage, since it is a judicial statement that there was never a marriage. A divorce, which can only take place where there has been a valid marriage, means that the two parties are no longer Husband and Wife once the decree is issued. An annulment means that the individuals were never united in marriage as husband and wife.

Various religions have different methods for obtaining a church divorce, or annulment, but these procedures have no legal force or effect upon a marriage that complied with the requirements of law. Such a marriage must be legally annulled.


English Common Law did not provide for annulment. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the only courts in England with the power to annul an invalid marriage, when fairness mandated it, were the ecclesiastical courts. There was no statute that provided relief of this kind.

Northeastern American colonies passed laws enabling courts or legislatures to grant annulments, while other colonies adhered more closely to English traditions. The American tradition of keeping church and state separate precluded the establishment of ecclesiastical courts in the United States. Following the American Revolution, the civil courts in a majority of states never assumed that they had the authority to hear annulment cases.

A number of states eventually enacted laws authorizing annulment in recognition of the belief that it is unfair to require people to fulfill marital duties when a marriage is invalid.

Currently, most states have annulment statutes. In states that do not, courts declare that no marriage exists if the laws regulating marriage have not been observed.

An annulment declares that a marriage, which appears to be valid, is actually invalid. Two kinds of invalid marriages exist: void marriages and voidable marriages. A void marriage is one that was invalid from its very beginning and, therefore, could never lawfully exist in any way. The major grounds for a void marriage are Incest, bigamy, and lack of consent. Once these grounds are established, the court will grant a decree of annulment.

A Voidable marriage is one that can be declared illegal but that continues as valid until an annulment is sought. The annulment takes effect only from the time a court renders its decision.


State law governs the grounds for annulling a voidable marriage. Couples should not be obligated by the serious duties incident to marriage if both parties did not genuinely intend to be married.

Fraud is the most prevalent ground for annulment. The Misrepresentation, whether by lies or concealment of the truth, must encompass something directly pertinent to the marriage, such as religion, children, or sex, which society considers the foundation of a marital relationship.

Physical or emotional conditions may also be grounds for annulment, particularly when they interfere with sexual relations or procreation.

Other health conditions providing grounds for annulment include alcoholism, incurable insanity, and epilepsy. The mere existence of one of these conditions is a sufficient ground for an annulment in some states, whereas in others, an annulment may be obtained for fraud if such a condition was concealed.

Courts may also annul marriages that involved lack of consent, mistake, or duress. Lack of consent might arise if one party were senile, drunk, underage, or suffering from serious mental illness, or if there was no genuine intent to marry. A mistake as to some essential element of the marriage may also justify an annulment, for example, if the couple mistakenly believed that one party's insanity or impotence had been cured. Duress arises when one party compels the other to marry against his or her will.


State law governs the consequences of an annulment. Customarily, an annulment was a court declaration that no marriage had ever existed, but this created various problems. If a marriage was dissolved by divorce, the children of the marriage were legitimate and the parent awarded custody could be awarded Alimony. No such provisions, however, were made in an annulment. A majority of states have rectified this situation by statutory provisions. In most states, children of voidable, and sometimes void, marriages are legitimate. In addition, some states provide for alimony and property settlements upon the granting of an annulment. Several other jurisdictions allow their courts to devise a fair allocation of property where necessary and equitable.

Further readings

Escalera, Steve. 2000. "California Marital Annulments." The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 11 (spring): 153–8.Nelson, William T. 2000. A Treatise on the Law of Divorce and Annulment of Marriage: Including the Adjustment of Property Rights upon Divorce, the Procedure in Suits for Divorce, and the Validity and Extraterritorial Effect of Decrees of Divorce. Holmes Beach, Fla.: Gaunt.


noun abolishment, abolition, cancellation, contravention, decree of nullity, deletion, discontinuance, disestablishment, dissolution, effacement, invalidation, negation, nullification, obliteration, rasure, retraction, reversal, revocation, revokement, undoing, vitiation, voidance
Associated concepts: alimony, annulment of a marriage, dissolution of marriage, divorce, separation, voidable marriage
See also: abatement, abolition, ademption, avoidance, cancellation, countermand, defeasance, disclaimer, dismissal, dissolution, invalidity, mistrial, negation, repudiation, rescision, retraction, reversal, revocation, termination


the act of annulling.
References in periodicals archive ?
The first document addresses and modifies the annulment procedure for the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law; the second for the canons governing the Eastern-rite Catholic churches.
Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, dean of the Vatican court that rules on annulments, told a news conference the new rules were the most substantive changes to annulment laws since the papacy of Benedict XIV, who reigned from 1740 to 1758.
Many Catholics said they found the annulment process intrusive, cumbersome and costly -- an annulment can cost hundreds of dollars in some dioceses.
The pope also shared he got sad hearing of the troubles the annulment seekers had to go through, including travelling hundreds of kilometres, even losing days of work just to attend church tribunals.
The top court, apart from annulling the four articles, ruled for a stay for three of the annulled articles, meaning that the annulment of the legislation will be effective immediately without waiting for the decision to be published in the Official Gazette, as their implementation may well cause irreversible harm.
The Court also determined that the purported annulment by the Treasury Department of the Closing Agreement is not a final decision, but rather is only a preliminary adverse determination to commence a formal adjudicative process, thereby providing Doral its opportunity to challenge the decision through an administrative proceeding before the Treasury Department, and affording Doral the benefits of due process of law.
The main opposition party has to offer explanation (for every articles of the HSYK law) to clarify why it sees annulment is necessary, the court stressed.
BEIRUT: Electricite du Liban workers will stage sit-ins and suspend work on April 10 and 11 to protest the annulment of basic articles in the company's new budget.
If Kim would just agree to grant him the annulment, they could both move on with their lives," the source added.
These selected competencies can serve as a foundation for conceptualizing working with religious clients in general and specifically counseling with Catholics, who are moving through the annulment process,
8221; Legal matters such as Divorce, Legal Separation, Annulment, Paternity Actions as well as responses and change orders can be purchased this way.