When people talk about annulment, they often use it as a synonym for divorce. While the two legal processes are similar, they are not the same. Instead of ending the marriage, as is the case in divorce, an annulment voids a marriage altogether. When an annulment is granted, a judge is declaring that, because of issues that existed at the beginning of the marriage, the marriage is invalid and thus never legally existed. After an annulment, you will no longer be married, and in fact, legally, your marriage never existed.
You can seek an annulment in Texas if you were married less than 72 hours after your marriage license was issued. Otherwise, you must be able to prove one of the recognized grounds for annulment—intoxication, impotence, concealed marriage, mental incapacity, fraud or duress/force. If you meet one of the grounds, you can file a Petition to Annul Marriage in the district court for the county where you or your spouse lives.
The Differences Between Annulment, Divorce and Void Marriage in Texas
In Texas, there are actually three legal mechanisms for ending a marriage: divorce, annulment and a declared void marriage. The most common is divorce, which is a proceeding that ends a valid marriage. In contrast, an annulment is a legal declaration that the marriage was void from the beginning. A void marriage is similar to an annulment except that in these cases, if the grounds for a void marriage are met, the court must automatically declare the marriage void, whereas in an annulment the court may or may not find the marriage void, even if you can show you have grounds for an annulment. Under the Texas Family Code, a marriage is automatically void in cases of incest, bigamy, if one spouse is under 18 and has not been legally emancipated at the time of the marriage or if the marriage is between a current or former stepchild and stepparent. In a void marriage, spouses cannot make the marriage legal by agreement.
Understanding the Grounds for Annulment in Texas
In order to file for an annulment in Texas, you must be able to prove that you meet one of the grounds for annulment found in Chapter 6 of the Texas Family Code.
- Intoxication. You can request an annulment if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and lacked the capacity to consent at the time of the marriage. However, you cannot have lived with your spouse at any time after the drugs or alcohol wore off.
- Impotency. Impotence is grounds for annulment if, unbeknownst to you, your spouse was permanently unable to have sexual intercourse for any reason at the time of the marriage. Also, once you found out about the condition, you did not voluntarily live with your spouse.
- Concealed Divorce. You may file for annulment on the grounds of concealed divorce if you did not know that, at the time of your marriage, your spouse had divorced someone else within 30 days. You cannot have lived with your spouse after learning this information, and the petition for annulment must be filed before your first anniversary.
- Mental Incapacity. If you did not have the mental capacity to consent when you were married, or if you did not know, and could not have reasonably known, that your spouse did not have the mental capacity to consent to marriage, and you did not continue living together after this information came to light, then you may file for an annulment.
- Fraud. Fraud is grounds for an annulment if your spouse made a misrepresentation about an important fact with the intent to influence or persuade you into marriage. Again, you cannot have continued living together after the fraud was discovered.
- Duress/Force. If your spouse threatened you and felt you had no choice but to get married, then a judge may grant you an annulment if you have not continued to voluntarily lived with your spouse once you are no longer under duress or force.
- Marriage Took Place Within 72 Hours After Marriage License. You can file for an annulment within 30 days of being married if your marriage took place within 72 hours after your marriage license was issued. Getting married within 72 hours of getting a marriage license is banned in Texas except in limited circumstances, such as where one spouse is a member of the military and is on active duty or if a spouse performs work for the U.S. Department of Defense.
It should be noted that, while there is a provision in the Texas Family Code for an annulment if a party is underage, a 2017 revision to the Code banned marriages for anyone under the age of 18 unless they were legally emancipated from their parents. These marriages are therefore void marriages and do not require an annulment.
Residency and Other Requirements of Filing For Annulment
Before getting a marriage annulled in Texas, in addition to showing you have grounds for annulment, you must show that either you or your spouse live in Texas or that you were married in Texas. Another requirement is that your spouse must be alive at the time you file for an annulment. Even if you can show proper grounds for annulment, you cannot seek an annulment if your spouse died before you initiated the proceedings.
How to File for a Marriage Annulment in Texas
To initiate annulment proceedings, you must file an Original Petition to Annul Marriage in the district court in the county where you or your spouse live. The petition should give identifying information for you and your spouse, the basis for jurisdiction (that you and/or your spouse live in Texas or were married in Texas), the date of your marriage, the grounds of your annulment, whether children were born or adopted during the marriage, if you accumulated property during the marriage, the status of any protective orders and a request that the court grant an annulment. Check with your county court website to see if it has a sample petition.
If children were born or adopted during the marriage, you must also file a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship alongside the Petition to Annul Marriage. This filing will allow the court to make rulings about child custody, visitation and child support.
You also need to pay a fee at the time of filing, unless you are granted a fee waiver. The fee varies slightly depending on the county where you file, but the total fee for an annulment is approximately $200.
What Happens After Filing for Annulment
After filing your petition for annulment, your spouse must be served with the court papers, unless the spouse voluntarily fills out and signs a Respondent’s Original Answer form or a Waiver of Service Only form. The court clerk will give you a certified copy of your filing(s) and the citation. You must then arrange for a sheriff, private process server or the court clerk to serve your spouse. Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, service can be made either in person or by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. If you cannot serve your spouse through these means, you may request permission from the judge to complete service through other means.
Once service is completed, your spouse may file an Answer to Petition for Annulment, which will either contest or confirm your grounds to annul the marriage. The last step is to obtain a Decree of Annulment, which is a document signed by a judge, granting the annulment. In general, a Decree of Annulment is issued by default (if your spouse does not respond after being served), agreement (if you both agree to all terms of the annulment) or after a trial or hearing.