When you desire to end your California marriage, you have two options: divorce and annulment. Anyone can get a divorce, but you must meet qualification criteria to get an annulment.
As explained by the California Courts System, the main difference between a divorce and an annulment is that if the judge allows you to annul your marriage, it means that your marriage never existed because it was invalid from its beginning.
Per California law, your marriage was never valid if you and your spouse are closely related to each other or if your marriage is bigamous; i.e., one of you was already married at the time your marriage took place. If neither of these situations applies to your marriage but you nevertheless want to annul it, you must prove at least one of the following in court:
- You were a minor under the age of 18 at the time you got married.
- Your spouse fraudulently induced you to marry him or her, such as by failing to tell you that (s)he could not have children.
- Your spouse forced you into the marriage.
- Your spouse has a physical disability that makes him or her unable to consummate your marriage.
Statutes of limitation
California law allows you only a certain period of time in which to annul your marriage. If, for instance, you want to annul it on the grounds that you were underage when it commenced, you must file for annulment before your 22nd birthday. If you want to annul it on fraud grounds, you must file within four years of your marriage date or the date on which you discovered the fraud. For all other grounds, the statute of limitations is four years from the date of your marriage.
Child custody and support consequences
Remember, if you successfully annul your marriage, this means that it never took place. This, in turn, means that none of your children has a legal father. If you are a man, you must establish paternity of your children in order to seek custody or visitation. If you are a woman, you must likewise establish your children’s paternity in order to receive child support.
While this information is not legal advice, it can help you understand the annulment process and what to expect.