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7 Scenarios California Recognizes as Grounds for Annulment

Posted by Ahluwalia Law Professional Corporation | Mar 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

There are two ways to legally dissolve a marriage in California: divorce and annulment. Although they achieve similar outcomes, divorce is the legal termination of a valid marriage while annulment is a confirmation that the marriage technically never existed. That is, once a union is annulled, it's as if the couple was never married in the first place.

Annulments are harder to obtain than divorces because California law limits the grounds for obtaining one. In this blog, we'll discuss four valid reasons for annulling a marriage in this state and how you can proceed.


Bigamy is the act of marrying someone when one already has a living spouse. If Bob marries Susan while he is legally married to someone else, their union is invalid. Once Susan discovers the existence of Bob's actual wife, she can seek to annul the marriage on the grounds of bigamy. There is no time limit for her to take action, although it must take place while Bob is still alive.

2. Underage Spouse

If at least one spouse was under 18 at the time of the marriage, they may seek to have the union annulled within four years after the minor spouse turns 18. If Joe is 23 and Cassidy is 16 when they marry in Los Angeles, Cassidy can have the marriage annulled later on, provided she does so before she turns 2

3. Fraud

Fraudulent marriages can be annulled. If Paul marries Juanita, who was born in Spain, only to discover that she is seeing someone else and only used him to seek a U.S. green card, he can have the marriage annulled on the grounds of fraud within four years of discovering the deception. It is important to note that the alleged fraud must affect the “essence” of the marriage. In Juanita's case, she was marrying Paul to obtain U.S. residency and not because she loved him.

4. Unsound Mind

If either spouse was suffering from a mental impairment that prevented them from understanding the marriage agreement they were entering into, the affected spouse can have the marriage annulled. For example, if Johnny and Samantha are heavily intoxicated when they have a lightning-quick Las Vegas wedding, one or both of them can petition for an annulment at any time because they were too drunk to understand what they were doing. If a spouse was of unsound mind due to mental illness, their family or a designated agent can file for the annulment on their behalf.

5. Force

For a marriage to be legally valid, both parties must enter into it of their own free will. If Sarah reluctantly marries Chuck after he threatens to expose her past mistakes to friends and family, she could later make the case that she was constructively forced into the marriage and seek an annulment within four years.

6. Incest

Incestuous marriages are automatically invalid. This includes unions between parents and children, full and half siblings, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and grandparents and grandchildren. If Martin marries Kathy only to find that she was adopted while a baby and is legally his sister, the marriage can be annulled without challenge.

7. Physical Incapacity

In California, marriages can be annulled if one or both spouses has an incurable physical condition that prevents them from having a fruitful sexual relationship. If Shirley had a hysterectomy and married Bob who wants children without informing him of the fact, Bob can choose to seek an annulment within two years.

In California, the spouse seeking the annulment carries the burden of proof. They must provide the evidence needed to prove that the marriage was invalid. In Cassidy's case (see example from #2) she could produce her birth certificate to show that she was only 16 when the wedding took place. Johnny and Samantha (see example from #4) could produce witnesses to confirm that they were intoxicated when they got married.

If the annulment petition is approved, the marriage is void. Property that the former spouses owned as a couple will have to be separated, and if they had children, arrangements will need to be made for support, custody, and visitation. In California, there is a presumption of paternity that establishes the father's rights and obligations to children from an annulled marriage.

When you know your marriage is invalid, obtaining an annulment will put you in a legal position to put the incident behind you and start afresh. For assistance in preparing and filing a petition, contact Ahluwalia Law P.C. today.

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