Marriage Annulments in Maryland
August 13th, 2021
Sometimes marriage is simply a mistake. Maybe your spouse led you to believe something that wasn’t true. Or maybe you or your spouse were not mentally capable to be married at the time of the marriage. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to have your union annulled to undo the legal effects of the marriage. Here’s how marriage annulments work in Maryland.
What is an Annulment?
Despite what you may have heard, in Maryland an annulment is not just an alternate way for the recently married to divorce. An annulment is a separate legal proceeding to request that the court deem that your marriage never existed because it was either void at the time or became voidable because of one or both spouses’ actions prior to the marriage ceremony. A legal annulment is also different from a religious annulment, where the Catholic Church, for example, may declare that a relationship did not meet the standards for a valid Catholic marriage. In some faiths, a religious annulment is necessary before a second marriage can be performed in the church.
Marriage Annulment vs Divorce
The difference between annulment and divorce has to do with when the problems in a relationship occurred. To request an annulment, you will need to demonstrate that there was a legally significant problem with your relationship before the marriage ceremony was performed. With divorce, the Court determines that a once-valid marriage relationship has fallen apart due to one spouse’s fault, following a separation, or after a mutual breakdown of the marriage relationship. The Court will enter a Judgment of Absolute Divorce, which will put an end to your marriage. With an Annulment, the Court enters an Order that your marriage never legally existed.
Practically speaking, there is little difference between what the court can do when there is a request for annulment or for absolute divorce. In either type of case, you can ask a Maryland Family Law judge to:
- 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 family law attorneys will ask the court for both -- an annulment, if the grounds are established or a divorce, if they are not.
MD Grounds for Annulment
Before a Maryland court will grant a request for annulment, you will have to prove that there are one or more valid reasons to invalidate your marriage. Under Maryland law, grounds for annulment fall into two categories:
- Situations that make the marriage void for public policy reasons
- Circumstances that allow one spouse to object to the marriage, rendering it voidable
The difference between void marriages and a voidable marriage is that occasionally a third party -- like a person’s relative or first spouse -- can file the complaint for annulment. In voidable marriage cases, it must be a spouse asking to dissolve the marriage.
Automatically Void Marriages
A void marriage is one that was never valid in the first place. This could happen because:
- Either party was married to someone else at the time of the marriage ceremony
- The parties are too closely related under Maryland law (closer than first cousins)
- Either party lacked the mental capacity to agree to the marriage or was legally insane at the time of the wedding
Voidable Marriages When Spouses Object
A voidable marriage is legal until either spouse seeks to have the marriage invalidated and succeeds. This can occur when:
- One spouse was not of legal age (usually 18 unless with parental consent)
- The marriage was entered under duress (physical force), misrepresentation, or fraudulent concealment of something essential to the marriage
- Either party was temporarily unable to consent due to mental illness or temporary lack of mental capacity
Accidental Bigamy as Grounds for Annulment
Perhaps the most common example of a void marriage is where one party was already married at the time of the wedding. Someone may have become married automatically while living in a common-law marriage state.
In other cases, someone may have started the process to divorce, but the proceedings were dismissed or on-going at the time of remarriage. In limited cases, a third-party can ask the court to determine your marriage void if, for example, they were married to your husband or wife when your marriage took place.
Special Considerations for Fraud-Based Annulment
Fraud-based grounds for annulment are the most complicated to prove. The fraud must be related to some essential element of the marriage. The fact that your husband hid his video game habit or that your wife lied about her temper won’t be enough. Instead, the fraud should be related to health/well-being (yours or your spouse’s) or your children. For example, an annulment may be appropriate if:
- The wife hid the fact she was pregnant at the time of the marriage or lied saying the child was conceived by her now-husband
- One spouse concealed a serious mental health issue or chronic medical condition
- An immigrant spouse coerced a citizen to marry him or her to obtain spousal immigration status
- One spouse misrepresented his or her desire or ability to have children prior to the marriage
How to Get an Annulment in Maryland
Maryland has specific annulment requirements that must be met before a judge can declare your marriage void. Your Complaint for Annulment will need to lay out details related to the marriage, any children you share, and the grounds for the annulment. You will then need to prove those grounds existed at an annulment trial.
Annulment cases often involve complicated legal and factual issues, including who knew what before the marriage was performed. At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys can help you determine if your marriage was void or voidable, and do the work to prove your spouse committed fraud or coerced you into getting married. We will help you file all the necessary paperwork with the court, and make sure you and your children are provided for after your marriage is annulled. You don’t have to work through annulment alone. We will help you protect your rights and find a solution that works for you and your family. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an attorney.