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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.    

What 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 void. 

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 law. 

In fact, 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 justice."

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.

        Void Marriages.

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:

  • only between persons of the opposite sex; and
  • only when a license has been obtained as provided by law; and
  •  when the marriage is contracted in the presence of two witnesses;
  •  and solemnized by one authorized, or whom one or both of the parties in good faith believe to be authorized, by law to marry them.

 Any marriage 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 proceedings :

  • Bigamy. A marriage entered into before the dissolution of an earlier marriage of one of the parties becomes final, as provided in section 518.145 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 of Minnesota.

        Voidable marriages.

A voidable 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 Petition:  

  • 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 parties;
  • 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 marriage;
  • A 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?

Under no 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.

Minnesota 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:
    • by either party; or
    • by the legal representative of the party who lacked capacity to consent,
    so long as the action is brought no later than 90 days after the petitioning party obtained knowledge that the person was mentally incapacitated.
  • 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 incapacity;
  • 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 Granted?

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).

        Former 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).

        Spouse an Epileptic

  • In 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).

       Spouse Previously 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 (Minn. 1925). 

        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).

      Unnatural Sex

  • 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).


  • The 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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