Annulments

Annulment Lawyer in Westlake Village, CA

Who would qualify for an annulment in California?

In California, there are three different ways that a couple can initiate the dissolution of their marriage: filing for divorce, obtaining a legal separation or seeking an annulment. Unlike a divorce or legal separation, an annulment would render a marriage null and void—which means that it would no longer be recognized as a legal marriage in the state of California. For this reason, there are very few circumstances under which a couple could be granted an annulment. Also known as a nullity of marriage or nullity of domestic partnership, an annulment may be granted by the court if you can establish that one of the following conditions exists:

  • One spouse is a minor (younger than 18)
  • One spouse is legally married to another person
  • The marriage involves two blood relatives
  • One spouse was coerced into the marriage
  • The marriage is based on fraud or deceit
  • One spouse cannot consummate the marriage
  • One spouse suffers from a mental illness

Voiding a Marriage that is Based on Fraud, Deception or Deceit

When one or both parties enter into a marriage for fraudulent, deceitful or deceptive purposes, the union can be voided through an annulment. While this can include a number of different circumstances, some of the most common instances of deceit include failing to disclose information about sterility or pregnancy prior to the wedding, denying promised sexual relationships, denying one spouse the opportunity to have children when previously promised, using marriage for the purpose of securing a green card, using deceptive practices to coerce or manipulate one party into getting married or failing to disclose information about a criminal record and/or fugitive status. If you are interested in annulling your marriage for any of these reasons, our Westlake Village divorce attorneys are here to help.

NULLITY PROCEEDINGS 

The termination of a relationship by a judgment of nullity results in a legal determination that the relationship never existed as a matter of law.

A nullity action is usually prosecuted by the party to the relationship.  But a nullity may be brought by a person other than the spouse, such as where the competency of the spouse at the time of marriage is at issue. Such an action can survive the death of a spouse.  A parent or guardian of a minor may prosecute the action during the period of minority, but not afterwards.

The battleground concerning nullity proceedings usually involves the question of whether the doctrine of putative spouse is applied to one spouse or another. 

In a void marriage both parties may be a putative spouse unless there is a showing of no good faith belief in the validity of the marriage.  In a voidable marriage, the defect can be waived by continuing in the relationship. 

Evidence of bad acts during the marriage are admissible in nullity proceedings to show grounds for nullity.  There must be a nexus between the claimed bad acts and the grounds for nullity. 

A marriage is voidable based on obtaining a marriage by force, under Family Code Section 2210(e).  Examples are a marriage resulting from beatings, intimidations, threats to family, or threats to safety.  The force must be of sufficient magnitude to overcome a party’s free will.

A marriage is voidable based on physical incapacity under Family Code Section 2210(f), where either party is unable to engage in normal copulation and this incapacity continues and appears to be incurable. 

A marriage is voidable based on unsound mind under Family Code Section 2210(c), unless the marriage was contracted during a period called a lucid interval.  Relatives often file actions for nullity to undo the marriage based on this ground. 

Fraud is the most commonly litigated basis for seeking a nullity based on a voidable marriage.  A marriage based on fraud is voidable unless a party freely cohabits with the other with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud.  The fraud must go the “very essence of the marriage relationship.”

Common grounds for fraud are related to the sexual or procreative aspects of marriage, such as no intent to be intimate, no intent to live with a spouse, no intent to have children, or concealment of pregnancy by another man.

Concealment of sterility go to the “very essence” of the marital relationship.

If a spouse conceals an intention not to terminate a sexual relationship with a “significant other’, this is the type of “fraud” warranting a judgment of nullity. Where a husband enters a marriage with concealed intention to continue a sexual relationship with the wife’s sister, such conduct constitutes fraud.

Entering a marriage solely as a means to obtain citizenship with no intention to remain in the marriage constitutes grounds for nullity.

What facts are NOT sufficient as grounds for nullity?  Concealment of incontinence is not.  Ill temper is not.  Idleness, or laziness, is not.  Extravagance, such as a unchecked spending habit, is not.  Coldness is not.  Immoral character is not.  Lies about being a “man of means” is not.  Any other fraud “of a purely financial nature” is not the type of “fraud” warranting a judgment of nullity.  Deceit about one’s chastity or moral character is not “vital” to the marital relationship.  So, it does not justify a judgment of nullity based on fraud.

The burden of proof at trial for fraud cases in a nullity proceeding requires proof by clear and convincing evidence. 

PUTATIVE SPOUSE STATUS

While a judgment of nullity may be properly granted, the court may still find that one or both spouses are entitled to recognition as having the status of a putative spouse under Family Code Section 2251.

If a spouse is a putative spouse, then the property of the relationship is deemed “quasi-marital property”, at least as to that spouse, and it is divisible as provided for in the Family Law Act.  In such a case, the court divides this property as though it was community property, using the designation of “quasi-marital” property. 

Family Code Section 2251 provides that if the court finds that either party or both parties believed in good faith that the marriage was valid the court shall declare the party or parties to have the status of putative spouse.

If a spouse is a putative spouse, he or she is entitled to an award of temporary spousal support under Family Code Section 3600, permanent spousal support under Family Code 4320, an award of attorney fees under Family Code Section 2030, and the division of quasi-marital property.   A putative spouse can be awarded wrongful death damages.

A prerequisite to a holding that a spouse is entitled to recognition as a putative spouse previously required a finding of an objectively reasonable belief in the validity of the marriage.  This standard by which good faith is measured was changed in 2013 in the Ceja v. Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. case.  Under the Ceja case, the standard by which we measure good faith is now subjective, in the eyes of the beholder, rather than the previous “objective standard”, where the court would inquire as to what a third-party reasonable person would believe. 

Good faith requires a demonstration of an honesty of purpose, free from an intent to defraud. Now, whether compliance with the legal requisites for a valid marriage has occurred depends on the personal circumstances of the individual.  Among the factors for consideration is the marital experience of a party.  The party’s age, education, personal background, and sophistication is examined.  The court then makes its decision and ruling on an analysis of the totality of the circumstances.  This gives the court very wide discretion in arriving at its decision based on the totality of the circumstances.  As long as the court considers all of the circumstances, it can place more weight on one factor or circumstance than another. 

The extent to which the party was aware of all the facts that were inconsistent with a rational belief in the validity of or lawfulness of a marriage goes to the issue of good faith, measured based on the individual, not an objective standard.

A good faith subjectively reasonable attempt at compliance with the statutory requirements of solemnization of the marriage under Family Code section 400 is required. 

REGISTERED DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS (RDP) 

There is a split of authority of appellate courts with respect to the application of the putative spouse doctrine for registered domestic partnerships.  The better reasoned case is that the theories regarding nullity apply to terminating a RDP. 

 

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A JUDGMENT OF DISSOLUTION AND A JUDGMENT OF NULLITY

A judgment of dissolution terminates a valid marriage.  A judgment of nullity declares the marriage was void from its inception.

PLEAD IN THE ALTERNATIVE

It is good practice to file a Petition requesting in the alternative nullity and dissolution of marriage.  If the court does not find the prerequisites for a nullity, it can proceed by dissolution of marriage to terminate a valid marriage.

VALID MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS

Family Code Section 300 requires (1) consent, (2) a marriage license, (3) solemnization, and (4) return of the marriage license to the county of issuance.

In a 2018 case, Chaney v. Netterstrom, the parties obtained a confidential marriage license and exchanged vows at a solemnization ceremony.  The officiant gave the signed license to the parties.  The parties promised to file it.  The license was never returned to the county.  The Chaney appellate court ruled that the parties fulfilled the basic requirements.  The failure to return the license was not fatal to the validity of the marriage. Thus, the failure to return a marriage license does not invalidate a marriage regardless of who bore the responsibility for nonregistration.  The validity of the marriage turns on the issue of valid consent to the marriage. Registration of the certificate serves only a record keeping function after the solemnization.

Speak with Our Board Certified Family Law Specialist

Wondering if you qualify for an annulment in California? Find out by speaking to a Thousand Oaks divorce lawyer at Richard Ross Associates. In doing so, you can explore your legal options under the advisement of a board certified family law specialist. Not only does our firm understand the ins and outs of California's annulment laws, but we will make sure that you understand your rights, as well. We never take a one-size-fits-all approach to our practice, so you can trust that you will be given the level of attention that you deserve when you turn to our firm for help. Call our office today at (805) 410-3407 or submit a case evaluation form online to learn more about what Richard Ross Associates can do for you.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • This is very important: If you have separated from your spouse before one of you has filed for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, avoid agreeing to and placing into effect a temporary parenting plan arrangement regarding the children unless you will be able to live with this arrangement after the divorce papers have been filed. Once you begin a parenting plan that seems to be working, it becomes the "status quo." It is very difficult to convince a mediator or judge to change the status quo, especially if it is working or appears to be working and is not detrimental to the minor children.
  • If you have not received a judgment dissolving your marriage before the end of the year, you may file an individual tax return under the status of "married, filing separately" or a joint tax return with your spouse. You should consult your accountant as to the advantages of these options. You may obtain special information booklets regarding tax information for divorce or separated individuals from your local IRS office or read the IRS booklet online.
  • To file an action for divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, a person must have resided in the state of California for six months and in the county where the action is filed for three months prior to filing the petition in court. This is true of either the petitioner or the respondent - either person can meet the test and allow a filing. If your spouse meets the residency requirement, you can file even if you do not meet it yourself.
  • The court can and usually will order you to move out of your residence if your spouse convinces the court that you have been violent toward your spouse or threatened your spouse. You could be given ex-parte notice to be in court the next day because your spouse is seeking an order to make you move out and stay out. You can be ordered to leave immediately and not return even if your spouse is not on the property title or lease agreement! Once you are ordered to leave, it is not likely that you will be allowed to return.
  • Before you get a divorce, photocopy all relevant financial documents that you can obtain and store them off-site with a trusted friend or relative. Do not store them in the trunk of your car where they can easily be found and removed by your spouse. There may be both personal and strategic reasons not to tip off your spouse that documents are being reviewed for a possible dissolution proceeding. Make copies of documents that you find in the residence and return the original documents to their original location as soon as possible so that your spouse won't notice that they are missing. It is often advisable to make the photocopies when you are sure your spouse is away for an extended time, such as during a workday. It is advisable to gather as many relevant financial documents as possible while they are still available and before they have been removed or destroyed by your spouse. This will significantly reduce the cost of divorce litigation if the documents do not have to be recovered later. It will also permit us to get a true picture of all community assets and debts as soon as possible.