Marriage should be built on a foundation of love and trust. You should feel that you genuinely know your partner when you exchange your vows.
Unfortunately, some people are more concerned with what they want than the well-being of others.
If you feel your spouse tricked you or deliberately deceived you so that you would marry them, you may qualify for an annulment of marriage in California.
What is Marriage Annulment?
Marriage annulment is a process that declares a marriage invalid from its beginning, essentially erasing the fact of its existence in the first place.
You can obtain an annulment in California if you demonstrate that your marriage was void or voidable. Examples of void marriages are marriages that occur between close relatives or bigamous marriages, where one spouse is already married to another person.
A voidable marriage is an official union that was valid, but certain circumstances made it subject to being voided, such as fraud and lack of mental capacity.
Note that a civil annulment is not the same as a religious annulment of a marriage, which has no legal effect on the parties.
A religious annulment is typically sought by those who wish to have their legally obtained divorce recognized by the church.
Requirements for Annulment of Marriage in California
Obtaining an annulment of marriage in California starts with meeting specific legal requirements.
They include providing grounds and all available evidence to support a statement that the marriage should be recognized invalid.
Let’s look at the conditions for annulment in California in detail.
Grounds for Annulment in California
Unlike getting a divorce, it’s not enough for one or both spouses to decide to obtain a marriage annulment in California.
Instead, you must prove that there was a legal defect with your marriage by providing one of the grounds approved by the California courts:
- Incest: the parties are close blood relatives
- Bigamy: one of the spouses is already married to another person
- Fraud: one party was tricked into marriage by deceiving or concealing the truth, and they would not get married if they knew all facts (e.g., they lied about their inability to have children or just wanted a green card)
- Incurable physical incapacity: the failure to consummate a marriage (unable to have sex), and this incapacity was present at the time of the wedding
Some other situations apply also, including:
- One or both parties are under 18 unless they have court permission to marry.
- The consent to marriage was obtained by force unless the spouses continued to cohabit together afterward freely.
- One or both parties were of unsound mind during the marriage ceremony unless they kept living together as spouses after coming to reason.
- Either party was married to someone considered dead, who then turned out to be alive.
The person requesting an annulment has to prove each of these grounds.
They must demonstrate to the court that this situation existed during the marriage (wedding ceremony). The judge will not grant the annulment if the person doesn’t meet this obligation.
Residency Requirements and Waiting Period
One of the distinctions between a divorce and a marriage annulment in California is the absence of residency requirements and waiting periods for getting an annulment. The only condition is that you currently live in a California county where you plan to request a marriage annulment.
Difference Between Annulment and Divorce in California
Divorce and annulment have several similarities but differ in many principal ways. Although they both dissolve a marriage, their effects on the parties may contradict your expectations. Thus, you should decide when to use each type by considering their pros and cons for each given situation.
The California Annulment Process: Step-by-Step
Filing for annulment in California is similar to filing for a divorce or domestic partnership dissolution. For instance, the process includes filing a petition and summons, serving the other spouse, and attending a court hearing.
In addition, getting an annulment may also involve decisions on child custody and support if the partners have minor children together.
Let’s look at all the steps of the annulment process in California from start to finish.
1. Decide Where to File
Unlike filing for divorce, starting an annulment process doesn’t require spouses to choose a court in a county where one of them has lived for a certain period.
Typically, you can file for annulment in one of the California counties where you or your spouse lives. However, you can start your case only in the court that handles family matters.
2. Find and Complete the Court Forms
To initiate an annulment in California, you must collect and fill out the following forms:
- Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100)
This form is mandatory in every marriage dissolution case. Check the box “Nullity of Marriage” in the top section when filling it out.
- Summons (Family Law) (FL-110)
Summons notifies your spouse that you’ve initiated an annulment and instructs them on the following steps and deadlines.
- Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (FL-105)
Use this form to provide the court with information about your minor children if you have them.
Since each jurisdiction has specific rules, you might need to file additional forms. Find out what documents you need by visiting or calling your local courthouse.
3. File the Forms With the Court
Make two copies of all papers you must file with the court. Then, take them to your local court and submit them to the clerk.
After receiving the forms, the clerk will put a date and a case number on them. The court will keep the originals and give you stamped copies.
One copy will stay with you, while the other is for your spouse.
Some counties also allow electronic filing for marriage dissolution. You can check if your county is one of them on the e-filing page. Note that this method may entail additional service fees.
4. Serve Your Spouse
The next step is to notify the other spouse about the annulment proceedings.
You can complete this process by giving your spouse copies of the petition and summons. However, you can’t do it by yourself. Instead, ask or hire a person who isn’t a party in your annulment case.
California Rules of Civil Procedure provide several ways to serve the papers on the respondent:
- by a process server or a sheriff
- by mail
- by publication
All of the above methods require that you file a proof of service (form FL-115) with the court. Don’t forget to make a copy for your records.
5. Wait 30 Days for a Response
The non-filing spouse (respondent) has 30 days to file response papers with the court, as stated in the summons form.
In the meantime, you must decide whether you qualify to ask the court for property division and spousal support. It is possible to get it if you prove that you are a putative spouse, meaning you entered marriage thinking it was completely legal.
If you believe you can convince the judge of your innocence and ask them to divide marital property, you must proceed to the financial disclosure procedure described below.
6. Disclose Financial Information
If you plan to ask the court to divide marital property, you must go through the preliminary disclosure process within 60 days after filing your petition. You must exchange all documents and information about your income and debts with your spouse.
The procedure requires you to fill out and share the following papers:
- Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
- Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)
After your server gives these papers to the other party, they will fill out the form FL-141: Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure. Take this form to the same court you filed for annulment and give it to the clerk as proof of service of financial information.
7. Schedule and Attend the Court Hearing
The annulment process usually ends with a court hearing where the petitioner presents evidence to support their claim. The petitioner must ask the clerk for a hearing date and then attend it.
Then, the judge will decide whether the annulment grounds are legitimate at the hearing.
The judge will grant the annulment if the marriage is void or voidable according to family law.
However, when it’s a legally valid marriage, the court will dismiss the case and suggest the spouses get a regular divorce.
Statutes of Limitations for Annulments (Time Limit)
A statute of limitations in case of annulment is a legal regulation that sets the time limit within which the married parties can request an annulment.
After this period expires, the parties cannot declare their marriage void. Instead, they must file for divorce to dissolve the marriage.
Depending on the grounds the parties want to obtain an annulment, the time limit can extend to four years. However, some grounds do not have a statute of limitations at all.
Let’s analyze specific grounds for a marriage annulment in California and the corresponding statute of limitations.
- For parties under 18 who didn’t have court permission to marry, the limitation to file for annulment is four years after they reach 18.
- A person in charge of the minor child (a parent, guardian, etc.) can request annulment before the married person reaches the age of majority.
- If mental incapacity is the alleged ground, there is no statute of limitation as long as both parties are alive.
- For marriages entered by force or where one spouse is physically incapable of consummating a marriage, the time limit is four years after the wedding.
- In marriages entered due to fraud, the injured party has to request annulment not later than four years from the discovery of deception.
- In the case of bigamy and incest, the marriage will be automatically annulled whenever this fact is discovered.
Annulment in California With Mutual Kids
California family laws protect minor children’s well-being above all other matters and require that both parents support their underage children financially. However, only legal parents have obligations to pay child support and request custody or visitation orders.
When a child is born in a marriage, the father is automatically assumed to be the child’s legal parent. But if your marriage is annulled, its existence is technically erased, making the automatic paternity disappear.
The courts must establish paternity before issuing child custody and support orders.
Parentage or paternity can be established in several ways.
One of them is through a voluntary declaration.
The Petition contains several requests, including paternity determination, proposed child custody arrangements, and child support provisions.
As a result of these proceedings, the judge will decide who the child’s legal parent is and then issue child custody and child support orders with the child’s best interests in mind.
Annulment of marriage in California is one of the alternatives to a lengthy divorce process if you meet rather strict requirements. Although no residency requirements and waiting periods exist, annulment procedures can take a long time.
The same is true regarding the cost.
Some may believe that annulment is very inexpensive. However, if you don’t have substantial evidence to prove your claim, your case will go to court, where you must hire a qualified lawyer, and their services are very costly at times.
Apart from the timing and the cost, annulment has several disadvantages, such as low chances of getting spousal support and part of the ex-spouse’s property. So, before you choose an annulment over a divorce, make sure you know all the consequences of your decision.
Annulment and Property Division in California
The court can’t always divide property when a marriage is annulled since this marriage is considered as never taking place at all. In addition, annulments usually occur soon after the wedding, so the parties don’t accumulate many assets and debts to be split after separation.
This way, the parties must divide their property, and neither can receive any benefits, like retirement interests, from the other.
However, there is an exception. A judge can divide marital property if they find that one party is a putative spouse. It means that one spouse reasonably believed that the marriage was legal.
Annulment and Spousal Support in California
It’s rare to get spousal support in a marriage annulment case. Usually, a judge cannot award long-term alimony, but there might be an option to get temporary support during the annulment proceedings.
There’s also a way to get spousal support for a post-annulment period if one partner can prove they were a putative (innocent) spouse and entered a marriage in good faith.
How Long Does an Annulment Take in California
Getting a marriage annulled in California can potentially take less time than a regular divorce. In particular, the time frame for annulment does not include residency requirements or waiting periods and, consequently, can be resolved in less than six months.
This way, a judge can issue an annulment order after you file your request. However, some alleged grounds can be difficult to prove. If one party contests the annulment, the case may go to trial and take longer to finalize.
How Much Does an Annulment Cost in California?
The cost of an annulment in California starts from $435 and can reach several thousand, depending on circumstances. For instance, if the party requesting annulment represents the case without a lawyer, the cost won’t exceed a few thousand dollars.
On the other hand, contested issues can cost several thousand dollars since the case would likely go to trial and involve lawyers.
Do Both Parties Have to Agree to an Annulment?
No, both parties do not have to agree to an annulment of marriage in California. A person can file a lawsuit without their current spouse’s consent. Getting an annulment is easier in some situations, e.g., when the marriage is between close relatives or one party is already married.
However, the parties may have more difficulty proving other grounds for the judge to declare the marriage invalid.