An annulment is essentially a declaration that a marriage is invalid. It's quite different from a divorce, which dictates that a marriage is officially over. Annulments are quite rare, and can only be obtained on certain grounds. Basically, to get an annulment in Pennsylvania, your marriage must have a glaring legal flaw that calls its validity into question.
Annulment in PA Definition
It’s important to understand the difference between divorce and annulment. In a divorce proceeding, a lawful marriage is officially ended. An annulment, on the other hand, voids the marriage completely by court order. Ultimately, this means that when an annulment is granted, the marriage never legally existed. A civil annulment in PA includes two main categories: void marriages and voidable marriages. Each addresses different grounds for annulment. Your marriage must fall under one of those grounds in order to qualify for an annulment.
Note that a civil annulment is different from a religious annulment. A civil annulment is legal and official. It is completed in a court of law. A religious annulment is handled by the church, and has no legal bearing on your marital status.
Void marriages are those that are illegal when the marriage takes place. Essentially, these annulments are granted on the premise that you never should have been able to legally sign marriage documents under Pennsylvania law. Here are a few reasons for a marriage to be void:
- If either party to a common law marriage is under the age of 18
- If either spouse was unable to consent to the marriage, either by reason of insanity, incapacity or simply not intending to consent
- If the spouses are first cousins or closer in relation
- If either party was already married without sufficient divorce or annulment. This would result in a bigamous or polygamous marriage, which is not permissible by PA law. The only exception to this is if the person reasonably believed his previous spouse to be dead.
Voidable marriages are generally valid, but may have a questionable element that could cause them to be annulled if either party chooses to bring a proceeding. There are several different types of voidable marriages:
- If either spouse is under the age of 16, unless specifically authorized by the court
- If either spouse is 16 or 17 and the marriage took place without parental consent
- If either spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage. In this case, an annulment must be initiated within 60 days of the marriage.
- If either spouse is unable to perform sexual intercourse, and the condition is incurable. This cannot be grounds for annulment if the other spouse knew of the condition before entering the marriage.
- If either spouse entered the marriage through duress, coercion, fraud or some other type of force.
Annulment Time Limits
Although there is generally not a set Pennsylvania annulment time limit, there are a few instances in which you could waive your right to annulment if you don’t act in time. The right to an annulment can be waived if the couple continues living together after the voidable element is discovered or fixed. For example, say a couple enters into a voidable marriage in which one spouse is under the age of 16, and no court order is granted. Once the under-aged party turns 18 and continues to live with her spouse, she can no longer bring an annulment claim.