What does an annulment really mean? Black’s Law Dictionary defines an annulment as “when an event or judgment is treated as if it never happened”
So, an annulment makes a marriage disappear as though it never existed. This means you or your spouse cannot invoke the many rights available in a divorce…because the marriage never happened after an annulment is entered by the courts.
If a divorce would be on the whole bad for you an annulment may be an option worth looking into. In my experience, most people want an annulment for personal or religious reasons.
“Once a marriage is shown to have been ceremonially entered into it is presumed to be legal and valid” Stewart v. Hampton, 506 So.2d 70, 71 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987)
So, once you’re married you have only a few options to annul your marriage:
Fraud is one of the few grounds for annulment. Fraud is the making of an intentional misrepresentation, with knowledge that he other party will rely on it , and attaining the other party’s consent as a result. Basically, lying about something important in order to get the other person to marry you.
So, if you want to rely on fraud to annul your marriage, the real question is “was the thing that you were lied to about important enough.”
The courts have been through dozens of examples of what is sufficiently important to constitute fraud and what is not.
Getting married with no intention of living as husband and wife has been held as fraud.
Obviously, not disclosing that you’re still married is a fraud (but it’s also bigamy that we’ll also discuss later)
However, failure to disclose a serious medical condition has been held to be not fraud for the purposes of annulment. Tsapelas vs. Tsapelas 69 So. 2d 315 (Fla 1954)
Even a situation where a husband concealed his extremely extensive criminal record was held to be not fraud for the purposes of annulment. Savini v. Savini 58 So. 2d 193 (Fla. 1952)
But there’s a horrible and weird rule in Florida which stems from that criminal record case. If you consummate (have sex with your spouse) the marriage, you can never use fraud as a basis to annul a marriage.
Duress is when there is some level of pressure so strong that it removed the willful consent to marriage of the party asking for the annulment.
The duress can’t be just one instance. It has to be throughout the entire process of the wedding. Essentially, the shotgun has to be present at the entire shotgun wedding.
You can’t be married if you or your spouse are already married. This is automatic grounds for annulment and probably the basis for 99% of all annulments.
It’s even a felony in the third degree in Florida to be married twice. Fla. Stat. Sec 826.01.
It is a popular trope that a marriage can be annulled if the spouses have not consummated the marriage (had sex). This is not the case. A marriage is not a two step process that goes as follows: 1) ceremony, 2) sex. A marriage is the ceremony. That’s it. As we discussed above, however, consummation can turn a fraudulent and annullable marriage into a valid one.
What happens if a marriage is annulled? Well, neither spouse is eligible for any kind of benefits for spouses. This is especially important as it relates to wills and life insurance policies. This begs the questions “can an annulment happen after a person has passed?” No one knows the answer to this particular question as no court has addressed it yet.
Can you ask for support if you’re also asking for an annulment? You can in Florida. Burger v. Burger, 166 So. 2d 433 (1964).
While asking for marital support while you’re saying the marriage doesn’t exist sounds contradictory, it actually makes sense because the presumption is that married people are married with the rights of married people until they are declared no longer married. You won’t have to refund the money either if the marriage is found to invalid. Smithers v. Smithers, 804 So. 2d 489 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001)
Contact my office in Naples, Florida to learn more about whether annulment is an option for you.