Annulment: Meaning and Comprehensive Guide to Legal Grounds and Process

What Is Annulment?

Annulment is a legal process in which a marriage is declared to be null and void dating back to the time when it was entered into. A court has the power to grant an annulment, though there must be legal grounds for doing so. If a marriage is entered into fraudulently, for example, then one party may seek to have it annulled.

Key Takeaways

  • Annulment is a legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void from its inception.
  • For a court to grant an annulment, there must be legal grounds to justify it.
  • If a couple is unable to obtain an annulment, then divorce may be the only legal option for ending the marriage.
  • Getting a marriage annulled may relieve either party of court-imposed spousal support obligations.

Legal Grounds for Annulment

The courts cannot grant an annulment unless there is a valid legal reason for doing so. Here are some examples of scenarios when there may be grounds to seek an annulment.

  • One spouse believes that they were coerced into the marriage or otherwise defrauded by the other spouse.
  • One party is legally unable to get married because they’re already married to someone else.
  • The parties are too closely related by blood to legally get married under state law.
  • One party is underage and did not have parental consent to enter into the marriage.
  • One or both parties are deemed incapable of understanding the consequences of what they were entering into when they got married.
  • There was a lack of disclosure on the part of one spouse regarding a past criminal record, their inability to have children, or an infectious disease that they’ve been diagnosed with.

Grounds for annulment and the process for filing a petition can vary by state. The more documentation you can provide to support your claim, the stronger your case may be. In the case of a marriage involving underage people or someone who lacks the capacity to think for themselves, a parent or guardian can file an annulment case on their behalf.

Some states do not recognize incestuous or bigamous marriages as legal, eliminating the need to file for an annulment.

The Process of Filing for an Annulment

To obtain an annulment, one or both parties to the marriage must file a petition through the clerk of the court that hears family law cases. Filers also need to submit a summons to notify the other party that an annulment proceeding has been opened.?(If the spouse doesn’t respond to the summons, then the case can move ahead without them.)

The exact forms you’ll need to fill out and submit to the court can depend on how the process is handled in your state. If it’s unclear what documentation is needed, you may reach out to the court directly or contact a legal aid center near you for advice. You may need to complete any of the following:

  • Notice of intent to take default judgment: This document may be required if the other party fails to respond to the court summons in a timely manner.
  • Summary disposition request: You would use this document to ask the judge to make a decision on the annulment decree without a hearing.
  • Affidavit in support of summary disposition: This form is used to tell the judge the details of the court order you would like approved.
  • Affidavit of resident witness: You may need to complete this form to establish proof of residency in the state in which you’re seeking an annulment.
  • Confidential information sheet: This form is used to collect confidential information about each party to the annulment, including their Social Security numbers.
  • Decree of annulment: This document contains all of the terms of the annulment.

Assuming that you’ve completed all of the necessary paperwork, there are three ways that you might be able to obtain a final annulment decree:

  • A decree may be issued by default if the other spouse (defendant) doesn’t respond to the summons after being served.
  • The court may issue a decree without a hearing if both spouses agree to the annulment.
  • A hearing or trial may be scheduled to allow both sides to present their evidence, which the judge can use to make a final decision.

An annulment is not considered final until a judge signs off on the decree.?But once an annulment is granted, the marriage is declared null and void. Legally, it’s as if the marriage never existed, and both parties are considered to be unmarried.


You may want to consult an attorney about how to complete the annulment paperwork and ensure proper service of your spouse if you’re submitting a petition to the court.

Annulment vs. Divorce

Divorce is the legal process by which a marriage is dissolved, but no questions are raised about its legality or validity. Once a couple is divorced, they’re no longer married to each other, but their marriage is not erased from the record. With annulment, the marriage is deemed to have been invalid from the moment it took place. Legally, it’s as if the marriage never existed.

For most people, a divorce is easier to obtain than an annulment. Courts may accept a wider range of grounds for granting a divorce, while annulment tends to be narrow in scope. For example, you may get divorced on the basis of infidelity or irreconcilable differences, which would not be sufficient grounds for an annulment. Also, there may be a statute of limitations regarding how long you have to file an annulment—some states cap it after a certain number of days, months, or years.

However, divorce carries different legal obligations with regard to spousal support and property division. In a divorce proceeding, a judge can decide how to divide marital property and assets. The courts can also order one spouse to pay support to the other.

With annulment, spousal support obligations don’t apply since you’re asking the court to erase the marriage from the record. If you’d like to seek spousal support, then you may want to consider pursuing a divorce rather than an annulment.


An annulment doesn’t negate a parent’s obligation to pay child support, nor does it bar them from seeking custody or visitation rights.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Annulment

The main advantage of having a marriage annulled is that it treats the union as being null and void. Both parties can walk away as if they were never married at all, with no requirement to divide property or pay spousal support on either side. Once an annulment is granted, either party would be free to marry again right away.

That said, there are some disadvantages to consider in annulling a marriage.

  • Unless you have legal grounds, an annulment can be very difficult to obtain.
  • The process can be time-consuming and costly if you’re having to pay substantial fees to an attorney.
  • Annulment terminates each party’s right to claim spousal Social Security benefits or disability benefits.
  • Annulment renders a marriage null and void, as if it never existed.

  • The legal grounds for annulment are typically limited to a few specific circumstances.

  • Individuals who seek an annulment are not automatically entitled to property division or spousal support.

  • Divorce dissolves a marriage, but does not challenge its legal status.

  • A divorce may be easier to obtain, as courts may consider a broader range of grounds.

  • The court can determine how to divide marital assets and how much spousal support one party should pay to the other, if any.

Is an Annulment Expensive?

Calculating the cost of annulment is difficult, since how much you’ll pay can depend on whether you hire an attorney and how long it takes for the case to be resolved. Filing the paperwork for an annulment yourself could save a significant amount of money on legal fees. However, if you expect the other party to contest the annulment or if you need help establishing the legal grounds to annul a marriage, it may be necessary to hire an attorney.

Can You Still Marry If You Are Annulled?

Once an annulment decree is granted by the court, both parties are treated as being unmarried. That means you’re legally free to marry someone else anytime.

What Are the Most Common Grounds for Annulment?

Bigamy, fraud, incapacity on the part of one or both spouses, and failure to consummate the marriage are among the most common grounds for annulment. Marriages may also be annulled when one party is under the legal age to marry, the union occurs as a result of coercion or duress, one party is mentally ill, or the spouses are closely related by blood.

How Long Does Annulment Take?

The process for getting an annulment varies by state, so there’s no exact timeline to use as a guide. In most cases, an annulment may be granted within a few months, making it a shorter proceeding than a divorce.

The Bottom Line

Getting an annulment is something you may consider if you entered into a marriage that you would now like to invalidate. However, it’s important to remember that getting an annulment is not easy. Talking to a divorce attorney or family law attorney can help you evaluate your options for ending a marriage.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute. “Annulment.”

  2. American Bar Association. “Annulment.”

  3. Family Law Self-Help Center. “Grounds for Annulment in Nevada.”

  4. Law “Annulment Fact Sheet.”

  5. California Courts Self-Help Guide. “Start an Annulment Case.”

  6. Family Law Self-Help Center. “Getting the Final Annulment Decree.”

  7. Family Law Self-Help Center. “Differences Between Annulment & Divorce.”

  8. U.S. Social Security Administration. “Reinstatement of Benefits When Marriage Terminates.”

Open a New Bank Account
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.