There are many reasons a marriage maycome to an end. Whatever the issues or differences between theparties, more often than not, they will seek a divorce or legalseparation. But in some cases, one or both spouses may want to“annul” the marriage – essentially to declare the unioninvalid, as if it never existed in the first place. It is importantto understand the legal, financial, and practical ramificationsassociated with seeking an annulment versus seeking a divorce. If youare considering a divorce, separation, or annulment, you are stronglyencouraged to discuss these very distinct options with an experiencedfamily law attorney from the San Diego area.

California law sets forth legal groundsupon which courts may grant an annulment, including whether: 1) theparty filing for the annulment was under 18 at the time of themarriage; 2) one party was of “unsound mind” or lacked theability to understand the effect of the marriage; 3) either partyentered into the marriage due to fraud; 4) a party consented to themarriage by force; and 5) one of the parties was “physicallyincapacitated” (or incapable of consummating the relationship). Inorder to succeed in getting an annulment, you must prove to the courtthat at least one of these criteria applies to your marriage. Ofcourse, each case is unique, and courts will review the particularcircumstances of the situation to determine whether an annulment isappropriate.

In a recent California divorce case,the court reviewed the husband’s request for an annulment based onhis wife’s fraudulent concealment of her religious conviction.Here, the parties were married in 2004, and the wife filed fordivorce in 2012. The husband is a minister and had expressed concernthat a divorce would ruin his career. Once the court granted thewife’s request for dissolution, the husband moved to set aside thejudgment and have the matter resubmitted for an annulment. Accordingto the husband, the wife represented to him that she possessed“appreciable spiritual maturity and devotion.” He believed shewas committed to Christianity.

Ultimately, the parties agreed to astipulation vacating the divorce judgment, allowing the husband toseek an annulment on the specific condition that the dissolutionwould be reinstated if the court failed to issue an annulment.However, the court denied the husband’s request, pointing out thatno California case supported his argument that fraud relating toreligious conviction was a basis for a nullity of the marriage underthe law. A dissolution judgment was then entered. The husbandappealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously concluded thatreligious fraud is not a valid ground for an annulment in California.

The court of appeals reviewed Section2210 as it pertains to annulling a marriage when consent to marry wasachieved by fraud. Specifically, the court noted that annulment isconsidered an extreme remedy, and the fraud must go to the “veryessence of the marriage relation…” The court affirmed the earlierdecision, concluding that even if religious misrepresentation were avalid ground for annulment, the husband failed to proved that thewife induced him to marry her due to a religious misrepresentation orthat her religious conviction prevented the spouses from fulfillingtheir marriage contract. Significantly, the court noted that thecouple was married for eight years, and each party assumed the rightsand duties of the marriage, despite the wife’s lack of spiritualdevotion.

This case nicely illustrates the legalcomplications that can arise when one party pursues an annulment ofmarriage (in lieu of divorce). An experienced family law attorneywould be able to guide you and help protect your rights when you aremaking the decision to end a marriage.