When we think about ending a marriage, the term that often comes to mind is “divorce.” It’s a concept deeply ingrained in our society, a process many are familiar with. But what about annulment? It’s like the lesser-known sibling in the family of legal ways to end a marriage, quietly existing in the background. In this article, we delve into the world of annulment in Virginia, demystifying this less popular but equally valid option for those seeking to dissolve a marriage.
Understanding Annulment: What Sets It Apart?
Unlike divorce, which ends a valid marriage, annulment goes a step further by declaring the marriage null and void, as if it never existed. It’s a legal eraser, wiping the slate clean. While divorce acknowledges a valid marriage that has come to an end, annulment suggests that, from the beginning, it was never valid.
Grounds for Annulment: Void and Voidable Marriages
Annulments in Virginia are granted based on specific grounds, falling into two main categories: void marriages and voidable marriages.
- Void Marriages: These are marriages that are considered illegal from the start. In these cases, you don’t need a special court process or a judge’s statement to make a marriage void. But even though a marriage can be automatically void, some still go through the legal process of annulment to officially declare it void.
According to Virginia Code § 20-38.1, these are examples of marriages that are automatically void:
- Bigamous marriages, where one party is already married to someone else.
- Incestuous marriages, where the couple is closely related by blood.
- Marriages involving minors without proper consent. If at least one person getting married is a minor, that marriage is automatically void. In Virginia, the legal age for marriage is 18. But, if someone is 16 and has a parent or guardian’s permission, or if a girl is pregnant, they can get married. Also, a girl who’s 14 or older can get married to avoid being accused of the crime of statutory rape.
- Voidable Marriages: These marriages are initially valid, but certain conditions or circumstances make them eligible for annulment. Grounds for voidable marriages include:
- Incompetence: Where one spouse couldn’t understand the marriage due to mental disability.
- Fraud: A spouse agreed to marry because the other deceived them. To use fraud as a reason to cancel a marriage, the deception has to be so serious that the marriage wouldn’t have happened without it. Simple lies about age, health, wealth, or past marriages usually aren’t enough for an annulment. In Virginia, annulments have been allowed for more serious frauds, like lying about having a contagious disease, lying about religious beliefs, or keeping a pregnancy from another person a secret.
- Impotence: One spouse is unable to have sexual relations. If one spouse is impotent, but the other spouse chooses to stay in the marriage even after discovering the impotence, the marriage can’t be annulled anymore.
- Hidden past: One spouse didn’t reveal they were a prostitute or convicted felon.
- Child by another person: The wife was pregnant by someone else during the marriage, or the husband had a child with another woman within 10 months of marriage.
- Duress: One spouse married under force or fear of serious harm.
- Sham marriage: The spouses got married for reasons other than the usual purposes of marriage. These include reasons such as getting married just to make a child seem legitimate without planning to live together, or marrying solely for immigration status.
How to Get an Annulment in Virginia
Getting an annulment in Virginia involves a legal procedure, and the grounds for annulment must be proven in court. The steps typically include:
- Filing a Petition: The process begins by filing a petition with the court, stating the grounds for annulment.
- Evidence and Documentation: Unlike divorce, which often focuses on the events leading to the end of the marriage, annulment requires a closer examination of the circumstances surrounding the marriage’s inception. Gathering evidence and documentation is crucial to supporting the grounds for annulment- for this reason, some people prefer to pursue a divorce over an annulment
- Court Hearing: A court hearing is scheduled where both parties present their cases, providing evidence to support or contest the grounds for annulment.
- Judicial Decision: Based on the evidence presented, the judge decides whether the marriage is eligible for annulment.
Should You Get an Annulment?
While annulment is a unique legal avenue, it’s not suitable for every situation. Consider the following factors when contemplating an annulment:
- Legitimacy of Grounds: Ensure that your situation aligns with the specific grounds for annulment as outlined by Virginia law.
- Timeframe: Annulment is often sought relatively soon after the marriage (less than 2 years). If too much time has passed, an annulment can no longer be decreed and divorce may be the more viable option.
- Division of property: If a couple has kids, either one can ask the juvenile and domestic relations district court to decide on child custody, visitation, and child support, even if they get an annulment from the circuit court. However, the circuit court that granted the annulment can’t handle the division of property, dealing with debts, or ordering spousal support. These can only be sought in a divorce.
- Loss of benefits: Marriage offers various legal benefits, such as owning a home with special protections, filing joint taxes for financial advantages, making medical decisions for your spouse, and receiving Social Security benefits based on their earnings. In annulment, these protections no longer apply.
- Legal Advice: Seeking legal advice is crucial. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the complexities of annulment, helping you understand if it’s the right choice for your circumstances.
Slovensky Law: Your Guide Through Annulment in Virginia
The path to ending a marriage is a personal journey. While some would prefer an annulment over divorce due to their religious beliefs, there may be more you need to consider before taking that next step. If you’re considering annulment in Virginia, our seasoned family law attorneys are here to provide clarity and support. This is a major life-changing decision, and we’re here to help ensure that you make an informed one that aligns with your best interests. Very few Virignia attorneys have actually ever handled an anullment- if you are pursuing an anullment- make sure to hire an attorney who as actually handled one of these matters before.
In the realm of family law, where each case is unique, Slovensky Law is your partner and advocate. If you’re contemplating annulment or exploring your options for ending a marriage in Virginia, schedule a consultation with us today. Let us guide you through the legal landscape, empowering you to make choices that shape your future.