Annulment of a marriage essentially means that a marriage is wiped from the slate. In other words, it never happened. Every state has annulment and the grounds and procedures for annulment vary from state to state.
The Arizona annulment statute says, "Superior courts may dissolve a marriage, and may adjudge a marriage to be null and void when the cause alleged constitutes an impediment rendering the marriage void." That makes the grounds for annulment about as clear as mud, doesn't it?
Fortunately, Arizona courts have more specifically defined the grounds for annulment over the decades. First, Arizona appellate courts have read the statute to mean that the Superior Court may grant an annulment if a marriage is void or voidable. The difference is that a void marriage is void at its inception no matter what the parties to the marriage do later, while a voidable marriage may be ratified by the aggrieved party rendering the marriage valid. The practical significance of this distinction is small because the parties to a void marriage still have to get a judgment of annulment to establish a legal record that their marriage was void.
So what have Arizona courts identified as grounds for annulment? The courts have identified the following grounds over the years.
1. Lack of capacity. This means that one or both parties lacked the capacity to enter into the marriage contract. This usually means that one of the parties was not mentally competent to enter into a marriage. For example, the party was mentally ill. It can also mean that a party was intoxicated, either on alcohol or other drugs.
2. Fraud. This means that one party tricked the other party into getting married. Essentially, one party lied to the other party about a material fact or facts that, if known by the other party, would have caused the other party to not enter into the marriage. Examples include hidden diseases, hidden drug addictions, ulterior motives (such as never intending to be faithful or intending to abandon an armed service member after getting the military dependent identification card), and hidden health problems.
3. Lack of consent. A party to the marriage did not consent to the marriage.
4. Duress. A person was forced to enter into the marriage, either by actual force or by threat of force.
5. Lack of parental consent. This applies to minors. If a minor does not have the consent of a parent, his or her marriage is voidable.
6. Undissolved prior marriage. No bigamy in Arizona. A divorce must be final before the subsequent marriage can be valid.
7. Incest. Per Arizona statute, marriages between parents and offspring, grandparents and grandchildren of any degree, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, siblings of the half blood or whole blood, and first cousins are void. Therefore, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa would have a void marriage in Arizona.
8. Same sex marriages. Per Arizona statute, same sex marriages are void in Arizona. Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled on the annulment of same sex marriages in two cases. The trial court in both cases had ruled that the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction to annul a same sex marriage because they are void in Arizona. The Court of Appeals ruled that the statute voiding same sex marriages is exactly why the Superior Court must grant an annulment. Both couples had been married in California during a period when same sex marriages were legal in California. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the marriage was valid in the place where the couples were married, but such marriages are void in Arizona. Therefore, the trial court must grant an annulment.
9. No formality of marriage. For example, there was no marriage license and the ceremony was performed by someone not licensed to do so.
The procedure for an annulment is the same as for a divorce or legal separation. A petitioner files a petition and summons and has them served on the respondent. The respondent then generally has 20 days to file a response. The respondent either lets the annulment go by the default process (meaning the respondent never files a response to contest the matter) or the respondent files a response and contests the annulment. If necessary, the court will have a trial.
Also, the court may make orders regarding children, property, and debt in an annulment.
Reasons that people seek an annulment instead of a divorce vary, but the most common reasons include religion (e.g., a Catholic who does not want to get a divorce), pride (e.g., a person does not want to have to admit to having been married), and animosity (e.g., a person does not want to have been married to that particular person).
I am a Phoenix annulment attorney who has been in practice for 13 years. If you are considering an annulment, I am available to consult with you. Please call the below number.