Divorce is the most obvious way to end a marriage, but an annulment goes beyond a typical divorce. While a divorce is a legal termination of a marriage, there is still a record of the marriage’s legitimacy. A civil annulment basically renders a marriage null and void, as if it never took place. While some couples may wish to seek annulments for religious purposes, such as avoiding divorce or legitimately remarrying in the eyes of the church, securing these annulments depends on the denomination and congregation to which the couple belongs.
Ultimately, there is no time limit to secure an annulment, other than a 60-day limit for marriages secured under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In other cases, it is possible to start the process as soon as one or both spouses discover a qualifying factor. If you need assistance annulling your marriage, reach out to our west chester attorney for a free consultation.
Grounds for Annulment in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law generally allows annulments for two types of marriages: voidable and void marriages. A voidable marriage is one that is legally valid but can qualify as void under certain conditions. The court may waive some grounds for annulment in a voidable marriage on the basis of cohabitation or other factors. Generally, the criteria for voidable marriages include:
- One or both spouses are under the age of 16.
- One or both spouses were under the age of 18 at the time of marriage, and the marriage took place without parental consent.
- The marriage came about due to the use of alcohol or drugs. In this case, the couple must file for annulment within 60 days.
- Either spouse’s physical incapability to perform sexual intercourse.
- The couple secured the marriage under duress or coercion, or they obtained the marriage certification by fraudulent means.
Exceptions to these rules do exist, however. For example, if the couple discovers fraud played any role in the securing of their marriage certification, they may waive these grounds for annulment if the spouses continue to live together. If one spouse engaged in fraud and the other did not, the innocent spouse can waive these grounds for annulment and ratify the marriage.
Some factors will render a marriage void in Pennsylvania, and the state does not recognize such marriages. A few examples of void marriages include:
- A common law marriage involving one or two spouses under the age of 18.
- A marriage to a first cousin or closer consanguineous relative.
- One spouse was unable to consent to marriage due to incompetence or limited mental capacity.
- Bigamous or polygamous marriages.
Under PA law, void marriages are immediately invalid and do not require a court order for annulment. For a voidable marriage, the couple will need to attend a trial and court hearings to qualify for an annulment. They will need to file the appropriate paperwork to prove that at least one of the grounds for voidable marriage exists to secure an annulment.
If a couple with children secures an annulment, it’s important to remember that the annulment process does not affect the legitimacy of the couple’s children. Additionally, an annulment will have no bearing on a child support or custody agreement, but it can serve to establish a presumption of paternity in some cases.
If you want an annulment or aren’t sure if your marriage would qualify for one, reach out to an experienced family law attorney. In most cases, people seek annulments to avoid the negative connotations associated with divorce, or for personal or religious reasons. Your attorney will review the details of your marriage and determine whether your marriage is void or voidable and how to best proceed. Remember, while there is no set limit for securing an annulment, the longer you wait, the harder it may be to justify the annulment.