For a time, more than half of all married couples in the United States ended in divorce. Although recent trends indicate that the divorce rate is starting to decrease, the social stigma associated with getting a divorce is not as ubiquitous as it was in the past.
The prevalence and acceptance of divorce in recent history may coincide with the legal reforms in family law that swept the states during the latter half of the twentieth century. Divorce is also somewhat of a political issue that implicates questions of traditional family values and the sanctity of marriage as an institution.
Historical Divorce Grounds
Marriage is a legal relationship that is governed by state law. Each state has its own unique set of rules and principles regarding the recognition and dissolution of the marital relationship. For most of the United States, state courts only granted a divorce on specific grounds that implicated some degree of fault on the part of a spouse.
In California, courts recognized the following “fault-based” grounds for divorce, among others:
- Adultery: Courts granted divorces in cases involving extramarital sexual affairs.
- Extreme Cruelty: If an individual was subjected to extreme cruelty from their spouse, courts allowed them to escape their abusers through divorce.
- Desertion: Granting a divorce was also appropriate in situations where one spouse abandoned or deserted the other spouse.
By limiting divorces to these specific and somewhat extreme situations, the law reflected the societal norms of the time, where marriage was considered to be an almost sacred relationship that could only be broken under severe circumstances.
No-Fault Grounds for Divorce
In 1969, California passed the Family Law Act which allowed people to file for divorce based on a spouse’s incapacity or due to irreconcilable differences between the parties. These “no-fault” divorce grounds reflected a shift in societal understanding regarding marriage as an institution, the social and legal inequities between genders, and the general harm of trapping people in a dysfunctional relationship.
Although most people might still agree that marriage is a significant undertaking, the implications of a failed marriage don’t have nearly as much weight as they did in the past. Some may think this demonstrates an erosion of traditional family values, while others believe it displays a growing sense of pragmatism.
Grounds for Annulment
Although both divorce and annulment are legal actions concerning the end of the marital relationship, there are significant differences. Where divorce proceedings concern the dissolution of a legally valid marriage, annulment proceedings involve marriages that were invalid from the start.
Because annulment results in the legal recognition that a couple’s marriage was formally invalid, the rights and responsibilities that arise from a valid marriage do not apply to marriages that were deemed to be null and void.
California recognizes the following grounds for annulment:
- Incest: Close blood relatives are prohibited from marrying. Therefore the purported marriage between them is considered invalid.
- Bigamy or polygamy: Marriages involving more than two parties are also prohibited by law. As a result, a purported marriage involving multiple spouses will be legally nullified.
- Minority age of a spouse: Individuals under the age of 18 are generally considered to lack the legal capacity to enter into a valid marriage. As a result, a purported marriage with someone under the age of 18 is invalid absent court approval.
- Unsound mind: A person of unsound mind is considered to lack the legal capacity to make legally binding decisions, such as entering into a marriage.
- Fraud: If a party’s consent to marriage was obtained through the concealment or misrepresentation of facts vital to the other party’s decision to consent, it is considered fraud and grounds for annulment.
- Force: Annulment is appropriate in situations where a party’s consent to marry was the product of force or threats overcoming the party’s free will.
- Incapacity: A marriage is considered voidable if either party suffered from a physical condition that prevents them from consummating the marriage through sexual intercourse.
For More Information, Call Moshtael Family Law
Issues regarding the end of one’s marriage can be emotionally exhausting and legally complicated. That is why you should consult an experienced family law attorney from Moshtael Family Law. We are dedicated to helping families with various legal matters, from divorces to adoptions.
Call Moshtael Family Law at online request form to arrange an initial, confidential consultation for your case.