What Is an Annulment?
Not all marriages are meant to last, but some shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. Maybe your spouse misled you, or you were both mentally impaired at the time you said your vows. If this is your situation, where the marriage is simply a mistake, you can take steps to officially undo the legal effects of saying I do. That's where the attorneys at Z Family Law come in. We provide legal assistance and legal representation for successful separation and annulment cases.
What Is an Annulment?
Contrary to popular belief, in Maryland, a legal annulment isn’t just an alternate path through the divorce process—it’s an entirely separate legal proceeding to request that the court rules your marriage never existed. It leads to the dissolution of marriage, either because it was void at the time or became voidable through one or both spouses’ actions.
And while we’re on the subject, it’s important to note that a legal annulment is different from a religious annulment. The Catholic Church, for example, may declare on its own terms that a relationship did not meet the standards for a valid Catholic marriage.
Steps to Getting
Establish Your Eligibility: Maryland courts are often reluctant to grant legal annulments, and they will not do so without clear proof that the marriage is invalid. Are you wondering if you’re eligible? Take a look at the Grounds for Annulment section below to discover whether an annulment is a viable option for you. Our annulment lawyers will help determine if you are eligible during your initial consultation.
File a Complaint for Annulment in Court: After confirming your eligibility, the next step is to file a document called a "Complaint for Annulment" with the circuit court for the county where you and your spouse live. If you prefer, you can also file in the county where the marriage ceremony took place. For assistance filling out and filing an annulment, our legal team of qualified annulment attorneys are just a phone call away.
Serve Your Spouse With a Copy of the Complaint: When it comes to serving your spouse, you have different options, even if they live out of state. Your spouse must be served before you can move on to the fourth and final step.
Testify at a Hearing in Front of a Judge: Testifying at a court hearing is the last step before your annulment is granted. Remember: It doesn't matter whether your spouse agrees that the annulment should be granted; if you’re the acting party, the burden falls on you to prove your case. If the judge is convinced that the legal grounds for annulment apply, they will then finish the legal procedure by signing an order annulling your marriage. Your annulment lawyer will be by your side as your legal representative during the court hearing.
A court decree in favor of annulment will protect the property rights of the parties (including bank accounts, pensions, and retirement accounts) and provide support for any children involved. The judge can also decide on issues like child custody, visitation of children, child support, alimony, and attorney's fees at the same time the legal annulment is granted. In Maryland, children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate unless it can be clearly proven that the husband did not father the children. When a child is declared legitimate, both parents have the duty to support the child financially.
Annulment vs. Divorce
The defining distinction between annulment and divorce centers on when the problems in a relationship occurred. To request an annulment, you’ll need to show the courthouse that there was a legally-driven problem with your marriage, such as one member being under the age of consent, the marriage of close relatives, or one spouse being mentally incapable of getting married. Unlike in a traditional divorce, with an annulment, the Court enters an order declaring that your marriage never legally existed.
Practically speaking, there is little difference between what the court can do when granting an annulment or an absolute divorce. Regardless of whether it is an annulment case or divorce case, it’s within the purview of Maryland Family Law to do the following:
- Determine child custody and visitation
- Award child support and alimony (spousal support)
- Resolve property disputes between the parties
Because some grounds for annulment are difficult to prove, many annulment attorneys will ask the court for both, resulting in annulment if the grounds are established, and divorce if they are not.
Grounds for Annulment
Securing a legal annulment isn’t easy. That’s because Maryland is serious about marriage and requires candidates to meet strict, specific grounds in order to obtain an annulment. To receive this type of legal separation, you’ll need to prove at least one of the outlined grounds for annulment below:
- One spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of your marriage.
- The spouses are more closely related than first cousins.
- One spouse is mentally incapable of marriage.
- One spouse coerced the other, under duress, to get married.
- One spouse defrauded the other to convince them to get married.
- One spouse is under the age of 18 (unless the underage spouse is 16 or 17 and had parental consent or the underage spouse is 15, pregnant, and had parental consent).
- The marriage was never consummated.
Important Qualifiers: If you’re filing for an annulment under the grounds that you were coerced, you’ll need to prove that the coercion occurred during the ceremony and that you were in fear of bodily harm.
Meanwhile, to be approved based on fraud, you’ll have to show that the fraud is connected to the core foundation of the marriage. In other words, claiming that your spouse lied about their temper, financial situation, or personality isn’t enough to take legal action. Instead, you’ll need to prove that the fraud negatively impacted the couples’ health/well-being or offspring.
Finding the Right Annulment Attorney for You
As you navigate this challenging time, a trusted legal team that can help you make rational, well-guided decisions is essential. After all, when it comes to writing your happily ever after in the midst of your legal separation, the importance of finding a strategic and compassionate legal team focused solely on family legal cases cannot be understated. By combining our vast legal experience and commitment to client service, our tenured team can design a tailored strategy to help you take back your power through a legal annulment and build the new beginning you deserve.