Here’s a divorce case to illustrate marriage annulment in Maryland.

Arthur Hall met Patricia in 1966.  They were both separated and in the process of divorcing their respective spouses.  Patricia was divorced in 1967 and in 1968 Arthur received a copy of a divorce decree from his attorney.  Arthur and Patricia married in 1970.

But there was a glitch with Arthur’s divorce from Helen and, in 1973, he learned that it had been invalidated.  In 1974, Arthur and Patricia separated.  He filed for an annulment stating the marriage was void from the beginning since he was married to his first wife at the time of the marriage to his second wife.  Patricia counterclaimed for divorce.

The Court had the power to either annul the marriage or dissolve it by divorce.  Guess which one it chose.

The Court said:

“It is conceded that the parties entered into the marriage in good faith. Thereafter they pursued a rather normal marital relationship for almost four years during which time they sincerely believed they were legally married. An annulment of the marriage fails to recognize any marital relationship between the parties, while a divorce, on the other hand, does recognize the marital relationship. It can hardly be denied that a normal marital relationship did exist between the parties to this cause, even after Arthur obtained a divorce from his first wife in December 1973.  Under such circumstances this Court believes that the dissolution of the marriage by divorce is more appropriate than by declaring it annulled.”

Hall v. Hall, 32 Md. App. 363 (1976)

Maryland does not favor annulments and the courts believe that marriages should be preserved whenever possible.  However, certain marriages are defective from the beginning.

Void marriages include bigamous marriages and those between close relatives.

Voidable marriages are those that fail under contract law but can be made valid by the court.  For example, marriage to a minor is not legal, but the marriage might be ratified by the court when the minor reaches the age of majority.

Even though it makes headlines when celebrities like KENNY CHESNEY and RENEE ZELLWEGER get an annulment of their four month marriage based on fraud, annulments are relatively rare.

Fraud as the Basis for Marriage Annulment

Fraud is usually the basis for a marriage annulment. Examples are failure to disclose a previous marriage, criminal record, infectious disease, the inability to have children, or the desire not to have children. Annulments have also been granted where a spouse entered into the marriage with the mistaken belief that they have been divorced or widowed when in fact they are not, or the spouses are too closely related, or one party is underage, and did not obtain appropriate parental consent.

In Maryland, a void marriage means there is some legal defect that invalidates the marriage such as a spouse that is married to someone else at the time of the second marriage or the parties are blood relatives or one is underage. You do not need to file a petition for an annulment with the court in the case of a void marriage although it may be wise to do so anyway so that you have a court order of annulment.

Voidable Marriage

A voidable marriage, on the other hand, can only be annulled by filing a petition for annulment with the court and having a judge declare the marriage not to have happened. Examples of voidable marriages are sham marriages or joke marriages where the parties did not really intend to marry, like BRITNEY SPEARS’ 55 hour marriage in Las Vegas.

You can file a petition for an annulment if you or your spouse were incapacitated at the time of marriage, as in insanity, intoxication, fraud or duress. Fraud can be hard to prove to a judge especially when the annulment is contested, so most people opt for a divorce instead. A divorce says the marriage is over. An annulment says it never happened.

Even CHESNEY and ZELLWEGER had trouble explaining fraud:

“Fraud was simply legal language and not a reflection of KENNY’s character,” said ZELLWEGER.

“The only fraud that was committed was me thinking that I knew what it was like…that I really understood what it was like to be married, and I really didn’t,” said CHESNEY.

The couple also issued a joint statement through a spokesperson in which they attributed the annulment to a “miscommunication of the objective of their marriage.”

Alimony and Property in a Marriage Annulment

It would be quite logical to think if a marriage is annulled, it is as if it never happened, and there will be no alimony or property division. The law, however, gives the court the right to award alimony and divide property in an annulment. This protects the party who thought the marriage was real.

Whether you are seeking an annulment in Maryland or a marriage annulment in VA or Washington, DC, contact us. Our divorce attorneys can help.