Understanding Annulments

For many married individuals in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the pathway to legally ending a marriage is through divorce. However, that’s not the only way. In addition to divorce, a marriage in Pennsylvania can also be dissolved through what is known as an annulment. This is a term which many are familiar with, but few actually understand.

Unlike an action for divorce, a court ordered annulment is a statement that the marriage itself is void or invalid and, in some circumstances, has the effect of establishing that the marriage never occurred. Not all annulments are made the same, however, and there are two types of marriages which can be annulled: those which are void and those which are voidable.

A void marriage is one that was never valid. As a result, this type of marriage must be deemed annulled. There are four categories specified in the Pennsylvania Divorce Code at Section 3304 which dictate that a marriage be deemed void. Those four circumstances include:

  1. If either party to the marriage was married to another person at the time of the second marriage;
  2. If the parties to the marriage are related by blood;
  3. If either party had a serious mental illness or was deemed mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage such that that party could not have provided legal consent to the marriage; and/or
  4. If either party to the marriage was under the age of eighteen (18) at the time of marriage.

On the other end of the spectrum are voidable marriages. Voidable marriages are marriages which can be annulled but the decision is ultimately based on the circumstances of the individual relationship. The Pennsylvania Divorce Code, at Section 3305, specifies five separate categories of marriages which are voidable and therefore subject to annulment by either parties filing such an action. It is important to remember that these marriages, unlike void marriages, are not automatically annulled by operation of law. The categories for a voidable marriage include:

  1. Where either party to the marriage was under 16 years of age, unless the marriage was expressly authorized by the court.
  2. Where either party was 16 or 17 years of age and lacked the consent of parent or guardian or express authorization of the court and has not subsequently ratified the marriage upon reaching 18 years of age and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony.
  3. Where either party to the marriage was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony.
  4. Where either party to the marriage was at the time of the marriage and still is naturally and incurably impotent, unless the condition was known to the other party prior to the marriage.
  5. Where one party was induced to enter into the marriage due to fraud, duress, coercion or force attributable to the other party and there has been no subsequent voluntary cohabitation after knowledge of the fraud or release from the effects of fraud, duress, coercion or force.

If you’re a party to a marriage which would qualify to be annulled, either you or your spouse has the right to bring an action for annulment. It is worth noting that an annulment has no direct or immediate effect on custody or child support. If you are considering terminating your marriage and want to learn more about your rights and options, call today for a free consultation at (215) 947-6240 or contact us online.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell, LLP, nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland Hess O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

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