Grounds for Annulling a Marriage in Florida
When couples contemplate ending their marriages, they typically focus on divorce, as that process is the one most used to dissolve relationships, and importantly, does not require the parties to prove either was at fault for the demise of the relationship. In addition to divorce, couples may have the option of annulling the marriage. One big distinction between divorce and annulment is that divorce recognizes that a marriage existed and legally severs the ties between the couple, while annulling a marriage means as far as the law is concerned, the marriage never happened. Further, when couples annul a marriage they are precluded from asking for spousal support, and property division is an issue a court will not always be willing to address. The key issue to know about annulments is that they are more complicated and complex than a divorce case because there are few statutes on this topic, but this is an avenue someone may want to choose for religious or personal reasons, especially if the marriage was very recent. A U.S. Representative obtained an annulment from his first wife of 25 years after showing she was a bigamist. While it is uncommon to seek annulment after such a long marriage, this example shows that this legal process may be available in some situations.
The few laws Florida has related to annulling a marriage concern situations where a marriage is considered void. Viewing a marriage as void means it was invalid from the beginning, and a court will always grant annulments if a party can show any of the following:
- bigamy, or when a party was already legally married to someone else at the time he/she attempted to enter into another marriage;
- incest, or the parties seeking to marry were biologically related each other as aunts, uncles, siblings, nieces, or nephews; and finally,
- underage spouses. Florida law sets the minimum age to get a marriage license at 18, and state officials are not permitted to issue licenses if either spouse is under this age unless both parties are at least 16 and have parental consent. Additionally, if the couple has a child together, even if under the age of 16, courts are authorized to allow the parents to marry.
Voidable marriages occur when the union appeared to be valid at the start, but the discovery of information at a later time brings this validity into question. Courts are not required to annul these marriages, so a high level of proof is typically required in order to be successful. Additionally, all the grounds to annul voidable marriages were developed by the courts, so decisions in these cases are more subjective and less predictable. However, courts did find annulments were warranted in cases with the following facts:
- one party was mentally incapacitated at the time of the marriage. In order to enter into a legal marriage, both individuals must have the ability to give informed consent. Thus, if one party is incapable of this act, the marriage is not valid. Specifically, if the incapacity was permanent, the marriage is void, but if the incapacity was temporarily caused by mental illness, drugs, or alcohol, the marriage is voidable.
- one party was coerced into the marriage on fraudulent grounds, such as telling a potential spouse of a willingness to have children, but refusing to do so after the marriage occurs; and
- an inability to consummate the marriage. However, if couple continues to live together as married after knowing about this condition, annulment is not available.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
Annulment proceedings are very complex and uncertain, so it is important to consult with an attorney before making the decision to pursue this type of legal action. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. handles a wide range of family law issues, and can advise you about the consequences of divorce vs. annulment. Contact the office to schedule a free consultation today.