An annulment voids a marriage; once annulled, the marriage from a legal standpoint never existed. If parties get an annulment, the court has no power to divide property or debt, enter orders of child custody, or enter an order of spousal support. Consequently, annulments tend to be rare, not only because we prefer to preserve the marriage contract but also, we want to protect spouses and children.
Why would someone want an annulment? Usually because the marriage had such a short duration and was based on some critical mistake such that one or both parties would prefer to write the marriage out of existence. Some of that desire may stem from the feeling of deceit by the other spouse; some may flow from the stigma of having a divorce to one’s name.
You can get an annulment in Missouri, but only under limited circumstances. First, the marriage generally must be of very short duration and produce no children. Second, the marriage must have been procured by a material misrepresentation by one party to the other party regarding an essential core of the marital relationship – usually called “fraud” for short.
Not every misrepresentation qualifies as a fraud that warrants an annulment. For example, telling your spouse you were a virgin before you got married when in fact you had previous sexual partners will not qualify (though it did in the past). Telling your spouse you were a former marathon runner, award-winning chef or spelling bee champion, while all deceitful, will not pass as “essential” to the formation of the marriage relationship.
So what will qualify as a material misrepresentation? Our courts have recognized several common types of fraud – concealing a medical condition (like syphilis or infertility), misrepresenting the ability to consummate a marriage (sexual dysfunction, sexual identity issues) and even lying to your spouse about your imminent release from prison!
In our experience, most clients seeking an annulment do so because of deceit regarding wanting a family or having the capacity to bear children, or making a lifestyle change essential to the marriage, such as relocating to a military base and military way of life.
To prove your case for annulment, you must establish that the spouse made the misrepresentations knowing they were in fact false, and that the intentional misrepresentations were made with the purpose of securing marriage, and that the marriage would not have taken place but for the misrepresentations.
For example, what if one spouse entered a marriage solely for the purpose of a publicity stunt to be filmed for a reality television show. In that case, the deceived spouse would have to prove that the other spouse knew the marriage was a publicity stunt undertaken for a reality television show, that the other spouse intended to end the marriage shortly after the wedding, that the deceived spouse did not know of these facts, and had the deceived spouse known these facts, s/he would not have agreed to enter into the marriage.
Some people ask us about a religion-based annulment, where the particular religion forbids divorce. If the marriage meets the short duration and no children criteria, an annulment likely could be procured. But if the parties had children, the law generally discourages bastardizing the children for the sake of a religious rite.
Should you need the advice of a divorce and family law attorney or have questions or concerns about filing for an annulment, know that we are here to help and discuss those issues with you.