If you want to end your marriage, you typically have two choices to do so: divorce or annulment. Divorce is the most common way to end a marriage. And although it is rare, an annulment may be the best path forward under specific circumstances. In this post, we’ll help you understand the reasons behind getting an annulment and how it differs from a divorce so that you can use this information to help you make the best choice.
Understanding the Legal Differences between Divorce and Annulment in Minnesota
To put it simply, a divorce ends a marriage. In contrast, a legal annulment invalidates a marriage — like it never existed in the first place (at least in the eyes of the law). Note that a legal or “civil” annulment is distinct from a religious annulment. Only a church or clergy member can grant a religious annulment, and this type of annulment has no legal effect. It should also be noted that Minnesota has very strict time limitations as to when a party can petition for an annulment. If the time period is missed, the only option is to pursue a divorce.
Reasons for annulment in Minnesota
The grounds for annulment vary from state to state. In Minnesota, the following situations are legal justifications for annulling a marriage:
- One party was unable to consent to the marriage due to mental incapacity, the influence of drugs or alcohol, or because consent was obtained by force or fraud. For this to be considered valid grounds for annulment, the other party must have been unaware of the mental incapacity at the time of the marriage. Additionally, the annulment decision will be affected if the spouses voluntarily live together after the ceremony or if one party continues to live with the other after learning about the fraud or incapacity.
- One party cannot “consummate” the marriage with sexual intercourse, and the other party did not know this at the time of the marriage ceremony.
- One of the parties was under the legal age for marriage. The legal age for marriage in Minnesota is age 18.
- The marriage is prohibited by law and is "void" (which means the marriage never had the potential for validity). For example, in Minnesota, incestuous marriages (between closely-related spouses) and bigamous marriages (where one spouse is still legally married to another living person) are illegal.
Is abuse grounds for annulment?
While abuse and domestic violence are certainly reasons to separate or divorce, they are not grounds for annulment. An annulment indicates something invalid about the marriage at the time of the ceremony. However, if domestic violence or abuse affected one spouse’s ability to consent to the marriage voluntarily, this would be grounds for annulment.
What happens if you marry someone who is already married?
Getting married while you’re already married is considered bigamy and is illegal. You must be legally divorced before you can re-marry. If you marry someone who was already married without your knowledge, the marriage is void because it was never legal in the first place.
How do I get an annulment in Minnesota?
If you want to get an annulment, you must file your case before the statute of limitations expires — there is a limited time window in which you can get an annulment. After that point, the judge will have to dismiss your case, even if you meet the grounds for annulment. Working with an attorney will ensure you don’t miss any critical deadlines.
The time window varies depending on the grounds for annulment:
- In cases of lack of consent due to mental incapacity, intoxication, force, or fraud, you must file for annulment no later than 90 days after you learn about the problem.
- In cases of physical inability to consummate, you must file no later than one year after learning about the problem.
- In cases where one spouse was underage at the time of the marriage, the underage spouse's parent or guardian must file for annulment before the underage person reaches the legal age of consent.
The first step to getting an annulment is to file a petition for annulment in the district court where either spouse lives. Working with an attorney at this point is critical because there are no official court forms you can use to prepare for an annulment. An attorney will create an annulment request that explains the law and facts supporting your request and includes all the necessary information.
When you file the petition for annulment, a judge will make decisions about child support, custody, parenting time, property division, and related issues—just as it would in a divorce case. Minnesota is different from most other states in this respect. Most state courts don't have statutory authority to award alimony or divide property or debts as part of an annulment case. The idea is there cannot be a marital estate if there isn't a valid marriage. But in Minnesota, the district court must equitably divide a couple's property and debts in an annulment case, just like a divorce.
How much does an annulment cost?
The cost of an annulment depends on if one spouse contests the annulment or disagrees about the division of property or child custody. As with divorce, the longer the case takes, the higher the cost will be. If you are considering an annulment, hiring an attorney is an essential investment in getting your annulment approved and ensuring your case is handled fairly. The higher the stakes of your case (for example, if parenting time or child custody is on the table), the more critical it is to have a dedicated and experienced attorney on your side.
What if my annulment is denied?
A judge will refuse a request for an annulment if they determine that you do not meet the eligibility requirements or if the statute of limitations has expired.
However, an experienced attorney can help you if your annulment is denied. You may have the opportunity to appeal the decision, but this requires the expertise of an attorney who can help you navigate the process and discover other options.
Whether you want to end your marriage through divorce or annulment, we’re here to help you through this difficult time. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to send us a message. An experienced attorney will walk you through your options so you can make the best choice.