Divorces have become a common occurrence in the United States as social and economic dynamics change and progress. However, in rare instances, a marriage may not have been valid to begin with. In these very rare cases, a person may petition the court for an annulment, which equivocates to the marriage never having to have existed.
There are no laws in Florida that specifically outline the requirements or procedure for annulment. Florida Statute Ch. 61, merely describes the basis of marriage dissolution (divorce). However, there are several appellate cases that have been the basis for legal precedent over the years. The presumption of every dissolution hearing is that the marriage was legal and valid, therefore it is the burden of the petitioner to prove that the marriage was invalid, either at the time of marriage or by acts committed on the part of the respondent.
The simplest grounds for an annulment are marriages that were void at the time of commencement. These include marriages that were void due to:
- One or more spouse has a permanent mental incapacitation and is unable to give legal consent.
- Marriage being one of an incestuous nature; the spouses are closely related by blood or marriage.
- One or more spouses was still legally married at the time of commencement, also known as a bigamous or polygamous marriage.
More complex annulments exist when the very nature of the marriage is valid, however made voidable by the following conditions:
- One or both parties were married as a point of humor.
- One spouse is unable to produce children and the other spouse was unaware at time of marriage.
- One or more of the parties is under the age of 18 and entered marriage without written consent of parent or legal guardian.
- One or more spouse was intoxicated or suffered from a temporary state of mental illness or incapacitation. If proven, this would imply the spouse lacked the mental capacitation to give informed consent during the ceremony.
- One of the parties uses misrepresentation to deceive the other into entering the marriage. A clear example would be if Person A told Person B they were Pregnant, then Person B acquires proof that the pregnancy never existed.
- One or both parties is coerced or agrees to marriage under duress. This is a tough one to really prove, for instance, being financially under duress and marrying a wealthy spouse would not be considered for annulment. However, if you had proof that you were being physically threatened to enter a marriage, you may be granted an annulment.
Voidable marriages differ from void marriages in the respect that they require a more stringent burden of proof, they may be considered valid unless otherwise contested, and they do not affect the legitimacy of offspring produced by the marriage. Respondents of an annulment based on voidable circumstances may submit a counterclaim, which would result, if upheld, in an annulment becoming a petition for dissolution (divorce).
If granted, neither of the parties can assert property rights of a spouse. Neither inherits from the other on the basis of marriage, and neither has a claim to the other’s benefits, such as healthcare, life insurance or retirement. Also, the Court will not intervene or rule on the division of property, real or otherwise.
Whether you are seeking an annulment or more likely, a divorce, the attorneys of Massey & Duffy, are here to serve you. Call our office at (352) 505-8900 for a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your case with an attorney licensed in Family Law.