There are distinct differences between a divorce and an annulment. An annulment refers to a Court Order declaring that a marriage is void. In other words, an annulment is a declaration that the marriage never legally existed. A divorce, on the other hand, is a Court Order or Decree declaring that the parties are no longer bound by an otherwise valid marriage. One way to think about the difference is an annulment can only occur under very specific, limited circumstances that are set forth in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code. Conversely, a divorce may be available to all married individuals, so long as they comply with the Pennsylvania laws applicable to divorce.
There are other distinctions that include, for example, a spouse’s property rights following an annulment as compared to a divorce. To determine whether an annulment is an option, an individual should contact an experienced family law attorney. Since Pennsylvania law provides very specific requirements in order for an individual to proceed with an annulment, an attorney can make sure the individual makes the right decisions. The following are important considerations:
1. RESIDENCE AND DOMICILE OF THE SPOUSES
In order to proceed with an annulment in the Pennsylvania courts, one or both spouses must be a “bona fide” resident of Pennsylvania for at least six (6) month immediately prior to commencement of the annulment action. The action must be brought in a Pennsylvania County Court of Common Pleas, subject to specific rules regarding the selection of the right County. A lawyer can determine the proper County in which to initiate an annulment proceeding.
2. GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT OF VOID MARRIAGES
So long as there has been no cohabitation by the spouses following the removal of specific impediments, Pennsylvania law deems an alleged marriage void in the following situations:
- Bigamy. When one spouse already had an existing spouse and there was no annulment, divorce, or death of the former spouse. This is referred to as bigamy which is defined as the simultaneous marriages of a spouse to another spouse or spouses. Bigamy is illegal in Pennsylvania.
- Consanguinity. When the married couple is too close in relation to one another, Pennsylvania law prohibits the marriage. Pennsylvania law prohibits marriages between certain blood relatives such as a parent and child, brother and sister, first cousins, and other combinations of blood relatives. This is referred to as “consanguinity”.
- Insanity/Mental Disorder. When one spouse is incapable of consenting to the marriage or lacks capacity to consent or did not intend to consent to the marriage. These cases are usually more difficult to prove and often require medical records and physician opinions.
- Common Law Marriage. When either spouse to a common law marriage was under 18 years of age. Since 2005, Pennsylvania stopped recognizing common law marriages so this situation is unlikely.
3. GROUNDS FOR ANNULMENT OF VOIDABLE MARRIAGES
A marriage is deemed voidable and subject to annulment in the following situations:
- Under 16 Years Old. If one of the individuals to the marriage was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage.
- 16 to 17 Years Old. If one of the individuals was 16 or 17 years of age at the time of the marriage and does not have consent from a parent/guardian or authorization from a court. In these situations, an action for annulment must be commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony. If the individual later ratifies the marriage after reaching the age of 18, the marriage is no longer voidable.
- Intoxication. If an individual was intoxicated by alcohol or drugs when he or she got married and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony. These cases are difficult to prove and require a careful examination of the facts. These cases often require witness testimony from individuals other than the spouses.
- Impotence. If an individual was at the time of the marriage and still is naturally and incurably impotent unless the condition was known to the other spouse prior to the marriage.
- Fraud. When one party to the marriage was induced to enter the marriage by fraud, duress, coercion or force from the other spouse. Despite these events, if there was a subsequent, voluntary cohabitation after knowledge of the fraud or release from the effects of fraud, duress, coercion or force, then the marriage is not voidable. Again, these cases require careful analysis of the facts and circumstances.
4. ANNULMENT PROCESS AND PROCEDURE
The process for requesting and obtaining an annulment of marriage in Pennsylvania may vary from county to county. It is always advisable to retain a lawyer for annulment cases. An experienced lawyer can:
- analyze the facts and circumstances of a particular situation and determine whether they rise to the level of a void or voidable marriage,
- determine what County to commence the action in,
- determine the chances of a successful outcome,
- prepare the case for any defenses that may be asserted by the other spouse,
- comply with all procedural steps including service and pleading requirements,
- consult with the client and help the client understand the process and probably outcomes, and
- prepare for court appearances, hearings, and meetings with opposing counsel and the Judge.
When an annulment is not possible, then an individual may consider whether a divorce is a viable option. Experienced lawyers should always discuss the divorce option from the outset since the divorce process may ultimately be easier and with a more certain outcome.
THE MARTIN LAW FIRM, P.C. – PENNSYLVANIA ANNULMENT LAWYERS
If you believe your marriage is void or voidable, you must act quickly to preserve your annulment rights. Contact The Martin Law Firm, P.C. today to discuss your case. We offer a free case evaluation to determine whether we can help you. Located in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, we handle annulment, divorce and related cases in Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County and Philadelphia County.