There are many reasons a marriage may come to an end. Whatever the issues or differences between the parties, more often than not, they will seek a divorce or legal separation. But in some cases, one or both spouses may want to“annul” the marriage – essentially to declare the union invalid, as if it never existed in the first place. It is important to understand the legal, financial, and practical ramifications associated with seeking an annulment versus seeking a divorce. If yo are considering a divorce, separation, or annulment, you are strongly encouraged to discuss these very distinct options with an experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area.

California law sets forth legal grounds upon which courts may grant an annulment, including whether: 1) the party filing for the annulment was under 18 at the time of the marriage; 2) one party was of “unsound mind” or lacked the ability to understand the effect of the marriage; 3) either party entered into the marriage due to fraud; 4) a party consented to the marriage by force; and 5) one of the parties was “physically incapacitated” (or incapable of consummating the relationship). In order to succeed in getting an annulment, you must prove to the court that at least one of these criteria applies to your marriage. Of course, each case is unique, and courts will review the particular circumstances of the situation to determine whether an annulment is appropriate.

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

Ultimately, the parties agreed to a stipulation vacating the divorce judgment, allowing the husband to seek an annulment on the specific condition that the dissolution would be reinstated if the court failed to issue an annulment. However, the court denied the husband’s request, pointing out that no California case supported his argument that fraud relating to religious conviction was a basis for a nullity of the marriage under the law. A dissolution judgment was then entered. The husband appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously concluded that religious fraud is not a valid ground for an annulment in California.

The court of appeals reviewed Section 2210 as it pertains to annulling a marriage when consent to marry was achieved by fraud. Specifically, the court noted that annulment is considered an extreme remedy, and the fraud must go to the “very essence of the marriage relation…” The court affirmed the earlier decision, concluding that even if religious misrepresentation were a valid ground for annulment, the husband failed to proved that the wife induced him to marry her due to a religious misrepresentation or that her religious conviction prevented the spouses from fulfilling their marriage contract. Significantly, the court noted that the couple was married for eight years, and each party assumed the right sand duties of the marriage, despite the wife’s lack of spiritual devotion.

This case nicely illustrates the legal complications that can arise when one party pursues an annulment of marriage (in lieu of divorce). An experienced family law attorney would be able to guide you and help protect your rights when you are making the decision to end a marriage.