Couples who are considering divorce in California have several alternatives to a conventional, courtroom-centered divorce: annulment, legal separation, mediation, arbitration, and “collaborative” divorce.

A conventional divorce may be the right option for some couples, but most people would prefer to avoid a costly, contentious, and acrimonious divorce trial. Before you choose divorce as the way to end your marriage, take a serious look at the legal separation and annulment options with a Long Beach divorce attorney.

A legal separation stops short of a divorce, but for many couples, a legal separation is a practical alternative that accomplishes many of the goals that divorce accomplishes. While a legal separation is not quite a divorce, an annulment accomplishes the goals of a divorce – and more.

WHAT DOES AN ANNULMENT DO?

An annulment not only declares that a marriage is null and void, but it differs from divorce because, in effect, it’s retroactive. In other words, an annulled marriage is a marriage that was “invalid” to begin with and is now treated by the law as if it never happened.

However, what an annulment is and does is widely misunderstood. Unlike a divorce, an annulment is not available “on-demand.” It is actually a quite complicated and precise legal procedure, and it’s available only to certain couples and only for particular reasons.

Before you file for a divorce, learn more about legal separation and annulment. One of those options might be a better alternative for you and your marriage partner. If your marriage qualifies for an annulment, it is almost always the best way to end the marriage.

IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES ARE ANNULMENTS GRANTED IN CALIFORNIA?

However, while divorce is common in California, annulments are rare. Not every state offers the annulment option, and even in California, annulments are granted only for very specific reasons.

If none of the factors listed here apply to your marriage, an annulment probably will not be approved. Annulments are granted by the courts in California only in these circumstances:

  1. There was undue pressure on one of the partners: One spouse was bullied, intimidated, blackmailed, or forced into the marriage.
  2. At least one partner had an “unsound mind”: When the marriage took place, at least one partner lacked the mental capacity to understand what was occurring, or at least one partner was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs at the time.
  3. There was fraud or deception: One spouse lied regarding something important to the marriage, like the ability to conceive children.
  4. The marriage cannot be consummated: One person cannot consummate the marriage and the other person did not know this prior to the wedding ceremony.
  5. The marriage was unlawful: If the partners are closely blood-related, if one was married to another person when the couple married, or if one spouse was too young to marry and did not have a parent’s consent, the marriage was illegal and qualifies for annulment.

Proving to a judge that your marriage meets one of these five conditions is not always easy. You will need the services, insights, and advice of a California divorce lawyer who has considerable experience handling annulment cases.

Incestuous and bigamous marriages are unlawful from the start, but because children may be involved and property needs to be divided, an annulment is required to conclude the marriage fairly and to prevent legal disputes regarding the marriage from emerging in the future.

HOW ARE CHILDREN AND PROPERTY DEALT WITH IN ANNULMENTS?

Annulled marriages are usually annulled swiftly, so dividing the marital assets, properties, and debts usually isn’t difficult, and annulled marriages rarely produce children. In most cases, that makes annulment one of the easiest family law procedures.

When a lengthier marriage must be annulled, if the partners can reach some agreements about the property and/or children, annulment is still a speedier process than divorce. If the partners cannot reach those agreements, a court will make these decisions regarding the marriage and annulment:

  1. child support, custody, and visitation terms
  2. division of marital assets, properties, and debts
  3. the resolution of any other claims or disputes

DO ANNULMENTS ENTAIL DEADLINES OR TIME LIMITS?

Annulments and divorces generally serve the same purposes, although an annulment is typically less costly and less emotional than a divorce. The reasons for the annulment are to dictate deadlines and time limits.

For example, an annulment because one partner was a minor who did not have parental consent to marry must be filed within four years of that person’s 18th birthday. Annulments that are sought for other reasons may have different time limits and deadlines.

But if you are seeking an annulment in California and you fail to meet the deadline, the annulment will not be granted, leaving divorce and legal separation as your remaining options.

HOW WILL A DIVORCE LAWYER HELP YOU OBTAIN AN ANNULMENT?

In southern California, you will need to have a Long Beach divorce attorney help you with filing for the annulment and completing the necessary paperwork. Without an attorney’s guidance, you could make a mistake that delays the process or causes the court to deny your annulment request.

When you seek to have a marriage annulled in California, you and your attorney will have to prepare a petition, a summons, a document stating the reason or reasons for the annulment request, and your explanation regarding why the annulment should be granted by the court.

The other spouse will be served with copies of these documents and given thirty days to respond to the petition for annulment.

A California annulment hearing must be conducted at least thirty days after annulment papers are served. A judge meets with the couple to consider the petition. The court will then grant or reject the petition, and if necessary, determine matters like property division and child custody.

KNOW YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS

Before making a final decision about ending your marriage, seek sound legal advice. Annulment is often the best option for those seeking to avoid the complications of divorce. If you do not meet the criteria for annulment, the right lawyer can help you consider the remaining options.

If you’re in southern California, let a Long Beach divorce attorney – with experience handling annulments – explain to you how the California annulment rules may apply to your own circumstances and help you decide if an annulment is the best way to conclude your marriage.

Read one of our recent blogs: ALIMONY AFTER A DIVORCE (WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW)