Recently, a client approached me to have her marriage annulled because she had married someone who was in prison, and they never lived together or consummated the marriage. However, an annulment was not possible in this situation, and the couple had to proceed with a simple divorce. In this article, we will explore the difference between nullity of a void marriage and annulment of a marriage, along with their requirements. Additionally, we will discuss voidable marriages and the possibility of curing them, and how annulments through the church differ from legal annulments.
Nullity of Void Marriage
Two types of marriages are void from the outset, namely those involving incest and bigamy. According to Family Code 2200, marriages between parents and children, ancestors and descendants of every degree, between siblings of the half and whole blood, and between uncles or aunts and nieces or nephews, are incestuous and void from the beginning, whether the relationship is legitimate or illegitimate. On the other hand, Family Code 2201 considers bigamy illegal and void, which involves a marriage where one of the spouses is validly married to someone else at the time of the later marriage. However, there are exceptions where the prior marriage has been dissolved or when a spouse has vanished for over five years. In case of bigamy, the subsequent marriage is void but valid until adjudged as bigamous and, therefore, voided. An action must be filed with the court to adjudicate the marriage void.
Annulment of Voidable Marriage
There is a distinction between void and voidable marriages. A voidable marriage is one that is considered valid until adjudicated to be invalid. Family Code 2210 provides a list of grounds on which a marriage can be annulled, including underage marriage, prior existing marriage, unsound mind, consent obtained by fraud, consent obtained by force, and physical incapacity. Once the court adjudicates a marriage voidable, it becomes like it never happened. Family Code 2211 provides time restrictions and requirements for seeking an annulment for voidable marriages. For instance, an annulment of an underage marriage must take place within four years of the underage spouse reaching legal age, while an annulment involving fraud must be sought within four years of discovering the fraud. In cases of fraud and force, only the victim can seek an annulment.
Curing Voidable Marriages
Family Code 2211 provides a series of time restrictions and requirements to obtain an annulment. An annulment of an underage marriage must take place within 4 years of the underage spouse reaching legal age. For marriage involving fraud, the annulment must be sought within 4 years of becoming aware of the incident of fraud. For marriage secured by force the annulment must be sought within 4 years of marriage. Once these time frames have passed the marriage is no longer voidable. The statute also makes it clear who can seek the annulment. In cases of fraud and force the guilty spouse does not have the right to seek an annulment which only lies with the victim.
Contrast with Church Annulments
Church annulments differ from legal annulments in that church annulments can be obtained on grounds not recognized by the law. The Catholic Church, for example, considers several grounds, including one spouse not being committed to marital fidelity or an error in the understood quality of the person. Even after obtaining a legal divorce, a couple can obtain an annulment through the church.