While most people understand the nature of divorce, confusion abounds over the concept of an annulment.
Whereas divorce declares a marriage terminated as of the date of a divorce decree, an annulment declares that the marriage was invalid from its very beginning. Essentially, when a judge grants an annulment, it is a finding that a valid marriage never existed. (There is also a difference between an annulment granted by a religious institution and a civil annulment, but this article only concerns the latter).
In Missouri, there is a strong presumption all marriages are valid, which makes it tougher to get an annulment in comparison to a divorce. The following are a few examples of grounds for annulment:
- Fraud or misrepresentation material to the relationship. To get an annulment based on fraud or misrepresentation, the false facts conveyed from one spouse to another must be related to the essence of the marriage. For example, where one spouse fails to disclose an inability to have children or the presence of a sexually transmitted disease, annulment may be an option. A failure to disclose debt, drug or alcohol use, or gambling, however, would not be grounds for an annulment.
- One of the spouses was already married at the time of the marriage.
- The spouses are relatives such as parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, whole and half siblings, uncle or aunt and niece or nephew, or first cousins.
When a marriage is annulled, spousal maintenance (also called alimony) may not be ordered since it is as if the marriage never existed, and therefore Missouri’s standard family laws regarding divorce do not apply. Similarly, if there are issues regarding children and/or property division, those would be handled differently than in a divorce.
Annulment is not an option for most people, but if you have questions about whether or not you might have a basis for same, it is important to consult a family law attorney to determine the best course of action for your situation.
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