Grounds for Annulments in General
Like getting a divorce, an annulment proceeding is a legal way of ending one’s marriage. However, where divorce signifies the end of a legally valid marriage, a petition for nullity of marriage finds that no legal marriage was successfully entered into when the parties purported to get married.
Unlike getting a divorce, a petition for nullity of marriage must allege specific circumstances that prove that the marriage between the parties is invalid, such as:
- Lack of capacity to marry: The parties must have the physical and mental capacity to agree to enter into a marriage with each other. If either party has a disability that renders them incapacitated, or has not attained the age of 18 and is presumed to lack the legal capacity to marry, the marriage is considered void.
- Undue influence: If the parties’ marriage was a consequence of fraud, coercion, or threat of force, it did not the voluntary consent of the parties to get married. Therefore, the marriage is invalid.
- Unlawful marriage: If there are civil or criminal prohibitions regarding the parties’ relationship—such as those involving polygamy, incest, or marriage to a minor without the consent of their parent or guardian—the marriage will be deemed a nullity from the outset.
Putative Spouses and Quasi-Marital Property
Because annulment proceedings treat a marriage as if it never existed, certain duties that would have arisen from a dissolved marriage—such as the obligation to pay spousal support—do not ordinarily apply to legal actions to nullify a marriage.
However, if a party seeking spousal support or marital property rights can prove that they were unaware that their marriage was legally defective and had a good-faith belief in its validity, a court may confer onto the innocent party the same rights as a legal spouse. They may then exercise those rights as a “putative spouse.”
When a court finds that a marriage is invalid, the case technically does not involve matters arising from a legally dissolved marriage, such as the division of community property. This is because an annulment effectively erases or undoes the purported marriage between the parties.
However, the property of a putative spouse and the other party qualifies as “quasi-marital property” and may be subject to division upon nullification of the parties’ marriage. Quasi-marital property is property that would qualify as community property had the parties been in a valid marriage. Thus, a court will divide the quasi-marital property of the parties as if it were community property and award half of it to a putative spouse.
A party to an annulment proceeding has a right to the care and custody of their children without having to prove the existence of a putative marriage. This is because the duty to pay child support arises out of a legal parent-child relationship, not a marital relationship. As a result, California Family Code § 3000 et seq.governs child custody proceedings in either divorces or annulments. Additionally, the court has the authority to issue interim spousal support and property distribution orders in an action for nullity.
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