Annulment laws are laws detailing the circumstances when a marriage can be voided as though it never existed. These laws vary considerably between jurisdictions and may be periodically updated and changed to address changing beliefs about marriage and the circumstances required for a marriage to be legal. If a marriage is brought to court for annulment, the judge can evaluate the facts of the case and determine whether the marriage falls under these laws. If it does not, the parties will have to petition for divorce if they wish to legally terminate the marriage.
The reasons a marriage can be considered invalid under the law vary. In many regions, marriage to more than one person is not allowed. If people can show that someone entered into a marriage while married to someone else, the marriage is considered invalid and can be annulled. Legal responsibilities between the partners are not created, as the law treats the marriage as though it never happened.
Fraud can be another issue. Annulment laws may allow for dissolution on the grounds of fraud if it is clear that the people never would have entered the marriage if they had known the truth behind the circumstances. People who assume identities and make false claims in order to enter a marriage can be subject to annulment in court.
Another issue can be a close genetic relationship. Many nations bar marriages from people who are closely related for social reasons, as well as out of concern about bioethics issues. Another example of a topic covered under annulment laws is the capacity for consent. If a marriage involves a person who cannot legally consent, it will be declared invalid. Likewise, coercion and force can be grounds for annulment. In all of these cases, annulment laws spell out the specific concerns so judges can apply the laws consistently and fairly; for example, a law on genetic relationships might bar parent/child and sibling marriages, in which case first cousins applying for an annulment would not have their petition granted.
Once a marriage has been annulled, it is treated for legal purposes like it never happened. This differs from divorce, where the marriage is considered valid up until the point a court order for legal separation was issued. People with entangled finances and other legal concerns may want to consult an attorney with experience in the area of annulment laws in the process of getting an annulment to find out how to proceed.