You’ve no doubt heard the term annulment, but you may think it has little bearing on the lives of regular people. However, annulments aren’t just for celebrities or royalty.
The legal process of obtaining an annulment is complicated, just like any other legal matter. If you have questions or concerns about annulment, don’t wait to consult with an experienced Austin, Texas, divorce attorney.
The Distinction between an Annulment and a Divorce
Divorce and annulment serve the same basic purpose – ending a marriage – but they differ considerably in their processes and implications.
A divorce is the dissolution of a valid marriage contract, while an annulment states that the marriage was not legally valid to begin with. While a Texas divorce will end your marriage, an annulment negates the marriage itself and clears the slate – as if you had never been married in the first place.
Because an annulment isn’t a divorce, it can have less social stigma, and there are generally fewer legal consequences attached.
Grounds for Annulment
The grounds for annulment differ somewhat from state to state – just as the grounds for divorce do. In the State of Texas, the grounds for annulment fall into several basic categories. If you think one of these situations may apply to your situation, speak to an Austin divorce attorney to see if an annulment is possible for you.
When one party to the marriage enters the legal contract under false pretenses or misrepresents themself in the process, it can qualify as fraud, which is grounds for annulment. Common examples of fraud include lying about one’s identity or intentions before the marriage. Forcing someone into marriage or causing someone to marry under duress will also do the trick.
When one party to a marriage is already married to someone else, it is called bigamy. Bigamy renders the second marriage legally invalid and is grounds for annulment.
When one or both parties to the marriage are underage at the time, it is grounds for annulment. The legal age to marry in Texas is 18. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 can only marry with parental consent or after obtaining a court order. Those under the age of 16 require a court order before they can marry.
When one spouse lacks the mental understanding to comprehend the nature of marriage in the first place, it can invalidate the legal contract. A prime example is someone who is seriously impaired by either drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage.
If one spouse is physically incapable of having a sexual relationship with the other and concealed this fact from their partner prior to marriage, it can support an annulment.
Violation of Required Waiting Period
In Texas, you must wait at least 31 days after a divorce before you can remarry. If, unbeknownst to you, your spouse’s divorce was finalized fewer than 31 days prior to your marriage, it can support an annulment. In this case, however, you must file for the annulment within one year of your marriage.
If you fail to wait the required 72 hours after obtaining your marriage license before marrying, it is also grounds for annulment. However, the waiting period for seeking an annulment in this situation is reduced to 30 days from the date of the marriage ceremony.
The following close relationships between spouses void marriages in Texas:
An aunt or uncle and niece or nephew
A stepparent and current or former stepchild
Some of the situations listed above automatically void a marriage, but in other situations, the marriage must be voided through annulment. However, even if your marriage is void to begin with, you can seek an annulment to clarify the matter and address certain legal concerns.
When the marriage involves an underage spouse, another currently active marriage, or an incestuous relationship, the marriage contract is void to begin with. However, there can be complicating factors. For example, if someone who is already married divorces their first spouse and continues living with the second, it can validate the second bigamous marriage.
In other words, annulment can become very complicated very quickly. If you aren’t sure if you have grounds for an annulment, reach out for the professional legal counsel of a dedicated Austin, Texas, divorce attorney with a wide range of experience handling these challenging cases.
Common Reasons for Seeking an Annulment
Some people realize that they’ve made a mistake soon after marriage, but many don't realize that an annulment may be an option. The advantage of an annulment is that it erases the marriage altogether, and you can truthfully tell anyone who is interested that you’ve never been married before – or you can subtract the annulled marriage from your final count.
While divorce is quite common, there is still some social stigma attached. Avoiding these social consequences can make an annulment more attractive to some. There are also religious reasons for seeking an annulment. While divorce is frowned on by several religions, an annulment can bypass this concern, which many people find comforting.
Pursuing an Annulment without the Other Party’s Consent
If you can prove that you have adequate grounds for an annulment, you can pursue it without the other party's consent. For example, if you find out that your spouse is already married or that they tricked you into marriage through some form of fraud, you don’t need his or her cooperation to seek an annulment through the court.
The Annulment Process
The annulment process in Texas is exacting and involves several complex steps. Work closely with an Austin family lawyer to ensure your case proceeds smoothly.
Filing the Petition
In order to have your marriage annulled, you’ll need to start by filing the petition for annulment with the court. In this petition, you must clearly state your grounds for annulment and include any related evidence and documentation. If your spouse contests the annulment, it can lead to a legal battle, much like in a contested divorce. In any situation, bringing your strongest case is essential.
It’s important to note that you’ll need to file for an annulment in the appropriate jurisdiction. This jurisdiction is generally the county where at least one of you has lived for at least six months.
Serving Your Spouse
Unless your spouse agrees on not requiring service, you’ll need to have him or her officially served with the annulment papers. This document informs them of the legal action you’ve instigated.
Attending the Court Proceedings
After serving your spouse, you’ll move on to the court proceedings. The court will hear each side’s arguments and evidence and will move forward with a legal decision. Seasoned divorce attorneys in Austin, Texas, have the experience and legal savvy to help you establish grounds for an annulment and move your case forward effectively and efficiently.
A skilled lawyer can also help you if you aren’t granted an annulment and want to dissolve the marriage. In this case, you’ll need to proceed with a divorce and all the legal complications that come with it.
An Annulment Is Not a Separation
It’s important to understand that Texas does not recognize legal separations. You are married until you divorce or have your marriage annulled – regardless of whether you live together or not. In other words, not living together will not strengthen your annulment case.
Further, any assets or debts that either of you accrues during your marriage – regardless of whether or not you live together – will likely belong to both of you, which can lead to serious financial complications.
If you believe your marriage isn’t legally valid, it’s time to discuss the matter with a trusted Austin divorce attorney. Ignoring the issue or imagining that you’re legally separated isn’t going to help your cause. The sooner you address the issue with a practiced divorce attorney, the more likely you are to achieve favorable results.
If You Share Children or Own Property Together
Sharing children or owning property together complicates the annulment process. While your marriage may not have been valid to begin with, this doesn’t alter the fact that your custody arrangements need to be addressed and that your shared property needs to be untangled. A skilled Austin divorce attorney can help you protect your parental and financial rights.
Your Child Custody Arrangements
If you and your spouse in your purported marriage share children, you’ll need to address both the matter of legal and physical custody. Legal custody determines decision-making authority, and it focuses on primary parental responsibilities like the following decisions:
Where your children attend school or daycare
The health care your children receive
The extracurricular activities and travel that your children participate in
Where your children make their primary home
The religious instruction your children receive
You and your ex can continue making these decisions together, or you can divide them by the category of decision that needs to be made. If you make decisions together, one of you may be granted the authority to break a tie if your genuine efforts to reach a consensus fail. Finally, one of you may be awarded sole legal custody, which means that you will make parenting decisions alone.
Physical custody determines the parenting time schedule that each parent receives. In Texas, the courts are bound by the best interests of the involved children. Toward this end, they consider a wide range of best interest factors like the following when making child custody decisions:
Each parent’s preference on the matter
The preference of any children who are considered mature enough to be involved
Each child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs, including any special needs
Each parent’s ability and commitment to effectively address these needs
Each parent’s commitment to supporting the other’s healthy relationship with the children
Whether domestic violence, child neglect, or child abuse is an issue that needs to be considered
How well the children are doing in terms of their current living situation, current school or daycare, and current community
Any other factors the court considers relevant to the case at hand
Barring a serious reason for ruling otherwise, Texas courts strive to maximize the amount of parenting time each spouse receives. The basic options include dividing parenting time relatively evenly or having one parent take on the primary custodial role while the other has a visitation schedule.
The Division of Your Shared Property
If you and the other party acquired property together during the course of the marriage that you’re attempting to annul, the court will apply the same principles of community property that it does in divorce – with some exceptions.
The goal is a just and right division of property that takes the unique circumstances of the marriage and annulment into careful consideration. While this arrangement often means an equal division, it isn’t always the case.
Sometimes, simply staying in a marriage that could be annulled closes the window of opportunity. Consider the following situations:
You married while impaired by alcohol or drugs but didn’t do anything to void the marriage after you’d sobered up.
You were coerced into marriage but stayed married until well after the coercion ended.
You discovered that your spouse misled you prior to marriage but remained in the marriage after this discovery.
In other words, if you think you may want to consider an annulment, it's important to act quickly.
Call an Experienced Divorce Attorney in Austin Today
If you believe your marriage is voidable, time is of the essence. Don't wait to reach out for the skilled legal guidance of an accomplished divorce attorney with considerable experience successfully handling complex annulment cases. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Austin – is just such an attorney.
Mr. Pritchard has more than 20 years of impressive experience backing him up, and he brings the full force of his skill and legal insight to every case he takes on. The outcome of your annulment case is important to your future, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about what we can do to help you today.