In our modern
world, an annulment tends to be more a creature
of religion than of law. Annulments are rarely
granted and when they are, very specific
circumstances must exist.
Often people believe that
they may annul a marriage simply because it was
of a very short duration. That is not the case.
To annul a marriage, a person must demonstrate
that the marriage is void because
it is prohibited by the laws of the State or is
voidable because the intent to
enter into a civil contract was not present at
the time that the parties married.
is an Annulment?
Marriage is a
civil contract between a man and a woman. As a
result, the contract is legally binding so long
as the requisite elements of the contract were
present when the parties married. If the
elements of the contract were not present, the
marriage may be annulled. That means, the
marriage is treated as if it never existed.
For all purposes, it is considered null and
What is the effect of an Annulment?
In some states,
an annulment may result in the harsh result of
extinguishing interests in property acquired
during the purported marriage. In such states,
each party would be entitled to the property in
their own name. This is not true under
Minnesota recognizes the concept of a
"putative spouse." Any person who has
cohabited with another under a good faith belief
that the person was legally married acquires the
same rights conferred by the divorce statute
including property rights and the right to
spousal maintenance. These rights terminate
when a person discovers that they may not be
legally married. It is important to remember
that in the case of Bigamy (more than one
spouse), the second putative spouse's rights do
not supersede the rights acquired of the legal
spouse (the first spouse). However, the Court
may apportion property, maintenance, and support
rights among the claimants as appropriate "in
the circumstances and in the interests of
What is the basis for an Annulment?
An annulment may
be granted when a marriage is automatically void
under the law for public policy reasons or
voidable by one party when certain requisite
elements of the marriage contract were not
present at the time of the marriage.
A marriage is
automatically void and is automatically annulled
when it is prohibited by law. Under Minnesota's
statutes a lawful marriage may be contracted
when the following requisites are met:
between persons of the opposite sex; and
when a license has been obtained as provided
by law; and
the marriage is contracted in the presence
of two witnesses;
solemnized by one authorized, or whom one or
both of the parties in good faith believe to
be authorized, by law to marry them.
occurring after April 26, 1941, without these
elements is considered null and void.
Additionally, Minnesota Statutes specifically
prohibits a nullifies the following marriage
without any decree of dissolution or other legal
Bigamy. A marriage entered into
before the dissolution of an earlier
marriage of one of the parties becomes
final, as provided in section
or by the law of the jurisdiction where the
dissolution was granted;
Interfamily Marriage. A marriage
between an ancestor and a descendant, or
between a brother and a sister, whether the
relationship is by the half or the whole
blood or by adoption;
Marriage between Close Relatives. A
marriage between an uncle and a niece,
between an aunt and a nephew, or between
first cousins, whether the relationship is
by the half or the whole blood, except as to
marriages permitted by the established
customs of aboriginal cultures; and
Same Sex Marriage. A marriage
between persons of the same sex, a marriage
entered into by persons of the same sex,
either under common law or statute
even if the same sex marriage was
recognized by another state or foreign
jurisdiction. Any rights granted by the
foreign jurisdiction recognizing the same
sex marriage are unenforceable in the state
marriage is one where an annulment is not
automatic and must be sought by one of the
parties. Generally, an annulment may be sought
by one of the parties to a marriage if the
intent to enter into the civil contract of
marriage was not present at the time of the
marriage, either due to mental illness,
intoxication, duress or fraud. Minnesota
Statutes set out the following circumstances
under which a marriage may be annulled by
Lack of Mental Capacity. A party
lacked capacity to consent to the marriage
at the time the marriage was solemnized,
either because of mental incapacity or
infirmity and the other party at the time
the marriage was solemnized did not know of
the incapacity; or because of the influence
of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating
substances; or because consent of either was
obtained by force or fraud and there was no
subsequent voluntary cohabitation of the
Lack of Physical Capacity to have
Intercourse. A party lacks the
physical capacity to consummate the marriage
by sexual intercourse and the other party at
the time the marriage was solemnized did not
know of the incapacity. This is considered
a material term of the civil contract of
Party was Under the Age of Consent.
A party was under the age for marriage
established by Minnesota law. Minnesota
Statutes requires that a
person must have reached the full age of 18
years to marry. Moreover, a 16 year old may
marry only if they have the consent of the
person's parents, guardian, or the court.
A marriage by an
underage party may become legally binding and
incapable of annulment if the cohabitation of
the parties as husband and wife continues
voluntarily after the person reached the age of
consent. Similarly, a marriage involving an
insane person may not be annulled if the person
with the mental disability is restored to
capacity and the parties continued to freely
cohabitate as husband and wife.
Who may annul a marriage and when may an Action
for Annulment be Brought?
circumstances may an annulment be granted after
the death of either party to the marriage.
Additionally, there are some timelines that must
be followed in order to seek an annulment. In
other words, even if the grounds exist to grant
an annulment, the annulment may be refused if
the party seeking it does not act quickly.
Statutes sets out who may annul and the
timelines for annulment as follows:
- If a
party suffers from a mental incapacity, the
marriage may be annulled:
so long as the action is
brought no later than 90 days after the
petitioning party obtained knowledge that
the person was mentally incapacitated.
- by either party; or
- by the legal
representative of the party who lacked
capacity to consent,
- If one of
the parties lacks the physical capacity to
have sexual intercourse, and the disability
is not known to the other party, the
marriage may be annulled by either party no
later than one year after the petitioning
person obtained knowledge of the physical
- If one
party is under the legal age of consent, an
action to annul the marriage may be
brought by the under aged party or the the
party's parent or guardian so long as the
action is brought before the time the under
aged party reaches the age of consent.
In What Types of Cases have Annulments been
There have been
very few cases that expand or define under what
circumstances an annulment may be granted for a
mental disability, duress, force or fraud.
However, cases in other jurisdiction have do
provide some guidance.
Marriage and Having Children
- In 1991, the
Superior Court of New Jersey granted an
annulment to a wife where the husband told
the wife after marriage that he wanted to
have children despite the fact that he had
signed an antenuptial agreement before
marriage stating that he did not wish to
have children. The court felt that this
constituted fraud relating to an essential
element of the marriage contract.
V.J.S. v. M.J.B., 249 N.J. super,
318, 592 A. 2d 328 (1991).
Spouse Still Alive.
- The Supreme
Court of Illinois granted an annulment to a
husband when the wife represented that her
former husband had died. Her husband was ,
in fact, alive and known to be living by the
wife at the time of the representation.
Wolfe v. Wolfe, 76 Ill. 92, 389
N.E.2d 1143 (1979).
Married to Get Immigration Status
- An annulment
was denied in New Jersey where the husband
claimed his foreign wife married him to
enter the United Stated. The Court
primarily based its determination on the
fact that the husband presented insufficient
evidence to prove his claim. Oatel v.
Navitlal, 265 N.J.Super. 402, 627
A.2d 683 (1992).
Minnesota, the Court refused to annul a
marriage where the wife was an epileptic and
at the time of the marriage the condition
was unknown to the husband. The Court
reasoned that there was no concealment of
the fact that the wife suffered from the
disability,. In fact, the husband never
asked her. As a result, there was no
fraud.. Moreover, epilepsy is not a
condition which would allow a marriage to be
annulled. Behsman v. Behsmand,
144 Minn. 95, 174 N.W. 611 (Minn. 1919).
Determined to be Insane
- In 1925, the
Supreme Court in Minnesota declined to allow
an annulment where a husband discovered that
his wife had previously been committed to a
mental hospital as insane. After the
marriage she had a relapse and was again
committed as insane. The Court reasoned
that there was no fraud because the wife did
not actively conceal her past condition.
The husband simply never asked "Hey honey,
have you ever been insane?" Robertson
v. Roth, 163 Minn. 501, 204 N.W. 329
Concealment of Venereal Disease
- In Missouri,
the Court of Appeals ruled that a wife's
fraudulent concealment that she had a
venereal disease was grounds for an
annulment so long as there was an active
misrepresentation of the fact. In short, the
husband asked. Watson v. Watson,
143 S.W.2d 349 (Miss. App. 1940).
- In 1983 the
Missouri Supreme Court annulled a marriage
upon the Petition of the wife where the
husband failed to disclose that he could not
engage in normal sexual relationships and
that his only sexual activities were if an
"unnatural type." The Court did not bother
to elaborate further in its decision.
Kshaiboon v. Kshaiboon, 652 S.W.2d
219 (Missouri 1983).
Minnesota Supreme Court allowed the
annulment of a marriage in 1974 where the
husband failed to disclose that he was
impotent. Darrell v. Darrell,
298 Minn. 470, 215 N.W.2d 789 (Min. 1974).
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