As If It Never Happened: Pennsylvania Marriage Annulments

By Casey Johnson-Welsh, Family Law Attorney

One of the hot topics discussed during the recent meeting of Catholic bishops with Pope Francis in Rome was annulment. But many people do not realize that annulments are not limited to the Catholic Church.

It is possible to seek a legal annulment of a marriage, which in essence says the marriage never existed.

Many people erroneously think that annulments may save them money instead of pursuing a traditional divorce or going with a divorce mediator. This is generally not the case, however. Pennsylvania’s courts view parenthood separate from the relationship between the parents, so an annulment generally has no impact on child support and custodial issues.

There are two categories of marriages that can be annulled:

Void Marriage Annulments declare the marriage was never valid to begin with. Circumstances that may lend themselves to a void marriage include if one of the spouses was mentally incompetent, if the marriage involved polygamy or was between close relatives.

Voidable Marriage Annulments declare the marriage may have been valid but is determined by the court to be null and void because of one of several factors, including if one or both of the spouses were under the age of 16 when the marriage occurred or if they were married between the ages of 16 and 18 without parental consent. Other circumstances that may lead to a voidable marriage are if either party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage (but this claim must be declared within 60 days of the marriage); if either party is unable to consummate the marriage; or if the marriage was consented to under duress or fraud. This requires proof of significant fraud, not just character flaws.

Many people also think that failure to obtain a marriage license is a basis for annulment but this is not true.

Although some might think of annulment as an option for ending a marriage, more often than not, we recommend that most clients pursue traditional or Collaborative divorces since they ensure equity and often a sense of finality that many people need both financially and emotionally. If you have questions about this or any other family law issues, contact our PA divorce lawyers. We’re here to help.

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