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Annulment: Ending What Never Was

Legal Recourse When a Marriage is Not Legally Valid

by Michael Heath

An annulment is a declaration that a marriage was never valid. Such declarations can be either state-recognized or religious, with either the courts or a religious body proclaiming that a marriage never existed.

What are the Grounds for Annulment?

Secular annulments often involve trickery or fraud. Here are some examples:

  • One party was secretly pregnant with someone else’s child
  • One spouse is still married (bigamy)
  • Lying about one’s age to obtain a marriage license (underage)
  • Withholding prior knowledge of inability to conceive

Other examples where annulments can be granted:

  • Married while intoxicated
  • Close blood relative (incestual marriage)
  • Duress (e.g., “shotgun” marriage)


Divorce is far more common than annulment. The distinction is that divorce involves the court system to end an existing marriage while an annulment comes when the court rules that a marriage never existed. A divorce, or even an annulment, cannot be granted if one of the spouses is deceased.

Annulments and Religion

Most religions have their own doctrines when it comes to ending a marriage. Methodists, the Anglican Church, Judaism, and Islam are examples where couples married in the faith must follow certain religious edicts for the marriage to be dissolved. Divorce is prohibited in Catholicism. The only way for the Catholic faithful to divorce and remarry in the church is by obtaining an annulment by applying to the church authorities. It is not an easy process, and many petitions are denied by the church’s ecclesiastical court.

How to Obtain an Annulment

Contacting your house of worship is a logical starting point for learning what the religious annulment procedures are, if any even exist. When it comes to secular annulments, contacting a lawyer is recommended, since annulments are legal procedures that can have their own complexities. Having a lawyer who knows how to submit the proper paperwork and navigate the court system will go a long way in obtaining the legal ruling you desire.

For more information on annulments and divorce, purchase The Courtless Divorce book:





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