While divorce is a common way to legally end a marriage, annulment legally voids a marriage and the couple continues on as if the marriage did not exist. Both an annulment and a divorce are ways that couples can end their marriage, but only some couples qualify for annulment in Missouri. An annulment and a divorce have different legal requirements and different implications for the separation of the two parties. Even if you qualify for an annulment, you may still want to proceed with a divorce, depending on your unique circumstances.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment refers to a marriage that was either void from its inception or can be found voidable. The difference is that a void marriage was never legal to begin with, while a voidable marriage is legally valid unless the court is shown specific evidence otherwise.
In a divorce, the marriage is ended on the date of dissolution, but the marriage until that time still exists. When a couple gets an annulment, the marriage is essentially erased. Annulments are rare because very few marriages qualify.
When Does a Marriage Qualify for Annulment?
Divorce can be filed on no-fault grounds, citing only irreconcilable differences between spouses. The grounds to file for an annulment are more narrow and include:
- Bigamy. If one spouse has one marriage that is still legally valid, another marriage is considered void. The spouse who files for annulment has to show the court that this first marriage was valid and was not terminated due to divorce or death. If the spouse with a prior marriage believed that their spouse was dead, another marriage is not considered bigamous.
- Incest. Marriages that are between closely related family members are always void. This includes any close blood relations.
- Lack of Capacity. For a marriage to be valid, both spouses must have the ability and capacity to consent to the marriage. If one spouse does not have the mental capacity to understand the impact of marriage due to insanity or incompetence, the marriage is void. If one spouse was unconscious or under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they got married, the marriage is void.
- Underage. If an individual under the age of 18 wishes to enter a marriage, they must have written consent from a parent or guardian or the court’s permission. If an underage spouse entered into a marriage without consent or permission, they did not have the capacity to consent to a marriage, and the marriage is void.
- Common Law. Common law marriages exist if a couple acts as a married couple for a certain period of time. They are only valid in some states, but they are not legal marriages in Missouri.
- Fraud. In certain situations, fraud or misrepresentation may cause a court to annul a marriage. This misrepresentation must be about a significant issue that would have altered the spouse’s decision to get married. It must also be something that the spouse did not and could not have known about prior to the marriage.
- Duress. A valid marriage requires that both parties consent to it. A marriage created under threat of force, duress, or violence can be voided by the court.
- Impotency. In some situations, permanent and incurable impotency is grounds for annulment if the spouse did not disclose this information or misled their partner at the time of the marriage.
In Missouri, a failure or inability to consummate a marriage is not grounds for annulment.
Legal Complications of an Annulment
Because an annulment erases the existence of a marriage, state laws that determine the separation of married parties don’t govern an annulment. In an annulment, parties cannot apply for or receive spousal maintenance. The court has no jurisdiction over the division of marital assets and debts. If parties have been married for a significant period of time, this can create severely complicated issues.
Annulled marriages are especially complicated when children are involved. If a child is born during their marriage, or within 300 days after the annulment, the child is considered a legitimate child of the marriage. Both parents have equal parental rights unless the court orders otherwise.
Q: What Qualifies as an Annulment in Missouri?
A: The court will grant an annulment for marriages that are void or voidable. A marriage may qualify if:
- The spouses are related.
- One spouse is part of another valid marriage.
- One spouse did not have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of a marriage or lacked the capacity to consent to marriage.
- The marriage only exists under the common law standard, which Missouri does not recognize.
- One spouse was underage and didn’t have court or guardian approval for the marriage.
- The marriage occurred under threat or duress.
Q: Why Do People Want an Annulment Instead of a Divorce?
A: An annulment acts as though the marriage never existed, rather than dissolving a legally recognized marriage. For this reason, the court has no jurisdiction over property division or spousal maintenance. Additionally, any premarital or postnuptial agreements do not apply because the marriage is considered void. Some spouses prefer this, as it may be a faster process, particularly if the marriage had a short duration.
Q: How Long After a Marriage Can It Be Annulled in Missouri?
A: In Missouri, a marriage can’t be annulled solely on the basis of it existing for a short period of time. Even a marriage that has existed for only a few hours is still considered valid in Missouri unless there is another reason why it is void or should be voidable. This may include grounds of bigamy, lack of capacity, duress, fraud, incest, or some underage marriages.
Q: What Is the Biggest Difference Between an Annulment and a Divorce?
A: A divorce dissolves a fully legal marriage and determines the terms of separation. This includes spousal maintenance, division of property, child support, and a parenting plan. An annulment is different because it treats the marriage as if it never happened on the basis of it being legally void or voidable. The court cannot order spousal maintenance or divide property. Court determination of child support or custody becomes more complex. An annulment can be a quicker way to end a marriage for some couples, but it can be more complicated and offer fewer protections for other couples.
Contact Stange Law Firm
Very few marriages qualify for annulment. An annulment may or may not be the ideal solution to end your marriage, even if you do qualify. Contact Stange Law Firm to determine your legal options.