Annulment, or Another Way to End a Marriage, Besides Divorce
When most people think about ending a marriage, divorce is typically the option that comes to mind. While that is most common method used to end a union, there is an additional legal process available. The other legal alternative is an annulment. Florida law does not technically include provisions on annulments, but instead has proceedings to declare a marriage void or voidable, which essentially amounts to an annulment. Annulments are granted by a court, and differ from divorce in that, if a marriage is annulled, it is treated as if it never happened. A recent article by CBS News, discussing a man who attempted to marry woman while still legally married to someone else, highlights an instance where a marriage is void. Bigamy, or marriage to more than one person at the same time, is illegal in Florida, and the second marriage is considered void. If a marriage is void, it can never be valid. Voidable marriages, on the other hand, appear to be valid when the marriage occurs but later information shows the existence of circumstances that potentially invalidate it. Voidable marriages may be annulled, or they may possibly be fixed so they become valid. Void marriages, on the other hand, can always be annulled and cannot be saved under any circumstances. The specific grounds for annulment will be more thoroughly discussed below.
There are several grounds, in addition to bigamy, that render a marriage void. Incest, or marriage to a blood relative, is prohibited under Florida law. Specifically, the law states no can marry a person related to them by the first degree. This includes siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Underage spouses are also prohibited under Florida law. Both spouses must be at least 18 years old when they apply for a marriage license. However, this barrier can be overcome if the spouses are at least 16 years old, and have any of the following: parental consent; proof of a pregnancy; or are parents of a child. Marriage licenses may not be issued to anyone under the age of 16, even with parental consent.
Finally, common law marriages entered into after 1968 are also void under Florida law. However, this provision also includes a disclaimer that says marriages entered into in good faith, even if defective, will still be recognized by the state.
The law on voidable marriages developed through court decisions, and consequently, is not as definitive as the law on void marriages. Nevertheless, there are situations courts consistently rule in favor of invaliding the marriage. It should be noted that if the marriage is consummated after a spouse learns of the voidable action, annulment is no longer an option.
If a spouse used fraud and deceit to conceal a material fact that goes to heart of a marriage, a court could declare the marriage invalid. A few examples of facts that would qualify as material are one spouse never planning to live with other spouse as a married couple, and one spouse lying about his or her identity.
Temporary mental incapacity is another reason a court can find a marriage voidable. The incapacity must exist at the time of the marriage ceremony and be severe enough to prevent the person from consenting to the union. Mental illness and drug/alcohol use can be the source of the incapacity.
The courts have also recognized duress and undue influence as a reason to hold a marriage to be voidable. Duress or undue influence can apply to either or both spouses, and must be strong enough to remove free will.
Finally, impotence is grounds for a voidable marriage, but sterility is not.
Seek Out Legal Representation
Learning your marriage may not be valid is a situation wrought with emotion and confusion. Having an attorney to advise you on possible courses of action, especially if ending the marriage is an option, can help bring clarity to what is happening. The law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A., in Tampa, offers representation in a variety of family law matters. Contact us to schedule a consultation.