In the United States, state annulment laws can vary considerably as to the grounds for annulment, the types of marriages that are prohibited, and the length of time that an individual or couple has to file for an annulment. Grounds for annulment under state annulment laws typically fall into one of several categories, such as fraud, duress, concealment, incompetency and non-consummation of the marriage. Some marriages are annulled because they violated state law from the beginning, and the couple was never legally free to marry each other.
Annulment cases that involve what is known as a "prohibited marriage" can be quite straightforward, and there is often a bit more similarity between state annulment laws when it comes to what constitutes a marriage that cannot legally take place. For example, if one or both spouses are underage, related to each other, or married to someone else, the marriage is invalid, and a judge will usually grant an annulment without difficulty. Variance between state annulment laws regarding prohibited marriages typically involves degrees of relatedness; some states recognize marriages between first cousins, while others do not or require that the cousins be over a certain age at the time of the marriage.
If a marriage was not legally prohibited at the time it happened, the spouse asking for an annulment will have to prove that the marriage meets one of the grounds specified in the state's annulment laws. Some of the more common grounds for annulment include situations in which one or both spouses were mentally ill, intoxicated, or the marriage took place under duress because of a threat of force. Some states, such as Hawaii, specify that an annulment can be granted if one party has a serious or sexually transmitted disease at the time of marriage but does not disclose it to the other. Other states allow for an annulment if a woman misleads a man into thinking she is pregnant in order to get him to marry her.
A key aspect of state annulment laws are the time frame restrictions. If a spouse seeks to annul a marriage, he may have to do it within a certain time period after discovering that he has grounds for an annulment. For example, in Illinois, if a spouse discovers that his partner was mentally ill at the time of marriage, he has 90 days after making the discovery to file for annulment. In cases of underage marriage, many states have laws that prohibit annulment if the couple continues to live together after the minor becomes of age. In some states, annulments are generally not granted if the couple has children or the woman is pregnant.
Because of the prevalence of no-fault state divorce laws and the fact that it can sometimes be difficult to negotiate spousal support or an equitable financial settlement, spouses who feel they may have grounds for annulment may instead opt to divorce. Some may feel, however, that due to reasons of personal integrity or religious commitment, proving grounds for annulment is preferable to divorce. If a spouse cannot prove that the marriage violated state law, he may have a difficult time proving grounds for an annulment and should seek the advice of a local lawyer who can advise him about state annulment law and his chances of proving his case.