An annulment is similar to divorce in that it ends a marriage, but its requirements and procedures are different. While a divorce is designed to end a valid marriage, an annulment declares that no valid marriage ever existed. Some people mistakenly believe that an annulment is possible only immediately after a short marriage. In actuality, there are several routes to annulment with no time restrictions.
Before filing for annulment, make sure your circumstances fall into one of the permissible categories. While these vary from state to state, most jurisdictions recognize annulments when one spouse is underage or otherwise unable to validly consent; one or both individuals were unaware that they were entering into a marriage; one party was still married to another person; or the marriage was entered into as a result of fraud. The elements of fraud also vary from state to state, but generally the concealment of a material fact such as a criminal history, substance abuse problem, infertility or sexually transmitted infection is sufficient.
If the circumstances of your marriage fall into one of the categories for which your state permits an annulment, you can begin the annulment process. In some cases, even if an annulment is possible, a divorce may still be preferable. This is because an annulment will have an effect on alimony, property division, child support and custody considerations. While an attorney can best advise you on your specific circumstances and will guide you through the process, a do-it-yourself annulment is possible.
The particulars of the annulment process again vary from state to state, but typically begin with one spouse filing paperwork with the local court clerk. Several states operate separate courts for family law issues. There are several forms available at the court, and generally you will have to file at least two: a notice to the court about your intent to annul the marriage, and a notice to your spouse, to which the spouse must respond within a set period of time (usually 30 days). Couples with children are usually required to submit an additional form. Your state may have other requirements based on your circumstances.
Submit these documents to the court clerk, along with a fee that is usually required at the time of processing. You may be able to have this fee waived if you meet certain criteria. Always retain a copy of the forms you file for your own records.