The Lesser Known Option to End Marriage: Annulment
When married individuals consider ending their marriage divorce is usually the first and only option they explore. This default starting point makes sense when one thinks about the lack of other viable options discussed and/or known by most people. In addition, many people look to divorce as the easiest available option, and avoid other possibilities for ending a marriage out of a desire to exit the relationship quickly. However, while Florida does not offer couples the option of a legal separation, statutes and law established through court cases do permit couples to annul a marriage in certain situations. A natural question that emerges for most people when this topic comes up is why they should choose this over divorce. Ultimately, the principal advantage of annulment is that it legally treats an annulled marriage as if it never existed. And, there are circumstances where a person would rather have no legal association with a past partner that justifies this more involved step. A recent story on Fox News serves as an example of a spouse that would have reasonable grounds for seeking an annulment. A Zephyr Hills man assumed a fake identity for over 20 years in order to avoid a second divorce. His new wife had no idea her husband was using a false identity until police appeared at their door to arrest him for identity theft, and she is now left to deal with the legal and emotional fallout of his decision.
As a preliminary point, it is important to note that Florida does not have specific law on annulment. Rather, it has statutes and case law that establish when a marriage may be declared void or voidable. Void marriages are unions that were invalid from the start and can never be legal. Voidable marriages, on the other hand, were not necessarily invalid from the start but potentially could be. All void marriages can be annulled, but only some voidable marriages may be. Some examples of void marriages under Florida law include:
- bigamy – marriage to more than one person at the same time;
- incest – marriage to a blood relative;
- underage couples – 18 is the minimum age to get married unless there is consent from the couple’s parents. Note that an exception can be made if the couple is expecting a child; and
- permanent incompetency – marriage to a person unable to give informed consent to the marriage due to permanent mental incapacity.
Obtaining an annulment for a voidable marriage is a more difficult process because the allowable circumstances are more complex and subjective. Further, the law in this area is exclusively based on past court decisions, which leaves the reach and application of the law open to interpretation. However, the following grounds are historically recognized as sufficient to justify annulling a marriage:
- sham or fraudulent marriages, such as to gain legal immigration status, public benefits, or Social Security. There must be no intent to live together as married couple by one spouse, with the other being entirely innocent;
- lack of consummation, but this claim should be made relatively early in the marriage to have a convincing argument; and
- concealment, such as one spouse hiding the fact that he/she cannot have children.
Consult a Family Law Attorney
Annulment cases are very complex, and typically involve very complicated sets of facts that require an experienced lawyer to effectively present in court. The All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay understands the law and resource investment needed to win these cases, and can help you determine if annulment is right for you. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+