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The Annulment

Posted by attorney David Luca

Nearly everybody understands the legal significance of obtaining a Judgment of divorce. However, a Judgment of annulment is something that very few people experience. Although procedurally similar to a divorce, an annulment does not culminate in the termination of the legal relationship of man and wife; rather, if successful it results in a Judgment that the marriage never existed.

Family Code Sections 2200 and 2201 flatly decree that incestuous and bigamous marriages are void and will be adjudged a nullity upon application to the Court. Family Code Section 2210 provides that marriages are voidable and may be adjudged a nullity if specified conditions existed at the time of the marriage. These conditions include: (1) where one or both parties were minors and did not have the consent of a parent to marry; (2) bigamy; (3) where one party was of unsound mind; (4) where the consent of either party to marry was obtained by fraud; (5) where one party was forced into the marriage; and (6) where either party was physically incapable of entering into the marriage, and the incapacity appears incurable. For example, a person participating in a marriage ceremony while under the influence of an intoxicating beverage may be of "unsound mind" and without knowledge of what is happening, and on that basis may be entitled to an annulment. Dobson v. Dobson, (1948) 86 Cal. App. 2d 13. In determining whether a party is entitled to annulment of marriage on the ground of unsound mind at time of marriage, the day of marriage is the critical date for determination of lack of capacity. Goldman v. Goldman, (1959) 169 Cal. App. 2d 103.

An annulment can also occur when one party to a marriage fraudulently represents anything related to the sexual or procreative aspects of marriage. Marriage of Ramirez (2008) 165 Cal. App. 4th 751. Typically, annulments on these grounds relate to procreation aspects of marriage, often involving a spouse who has knowledge that he/she is unable to procreate, yet represents the opposite in entering into marriage. An annulment may also be granted where a husband conceals his intent to continue an ongoing sexual relationship another woman at the time he entered into marriage. However, the chastity of a wife prior to marriage is not vital to the marriage relation, and therefore a false representation by a wife of chastity is not a ground for annulling a marriage. Foy v. Foy, (1943) 57 Cal. App. 2d 334. A common ground for an annulment based on fraud occurs when one party's motive in entering the marriage was solely to obtain a green card or other legal status in the United States and he or she never intended to engage in sexual relations with the other or to meet other marital duties. Marriage of Liu, (1987) 197 Cal. App. 3d 143, 156.

Asserting physical incapacity as a ground for an annulment requires proof that a spouse lacks the capacity to consummate the marriage by legal impotence. The legal standard for physical incapacity justifying an annulment only requires the inability for copulation. If intercourse is not fruitful or satisfying, an annulment will not be granted on that ground alone. Stepanek v. Stepanek, (1961) 193 Cal. App. 2d 760.

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