In Illinois and elsewhere, an annulment is a legal means to ending a marriage and sometimes serves as an alternative to divorce. An annulment in Illinois is also referred to as a declaration of invalidity of marriage. Unlike a divorce, an annulment retroactively voids the marriage. In other words, an annulment treats the marriage as if it had never occurred. As a result of this distinction, the grounds for annulling a marriage are quite different from those related to divorce.

Marriage annulment is a state issue. Therefore, the exact requirements vary from state to state. Even so, many states share basic similarities in their annulment laws.

Grounds for Annulling a Marriage

Unlike divorce, annulment requires a specific, proven reason before the court will annul a marriage. States typically accept some of common reasons for annulment.

  • Marriage Not Legally Permissible

If the couple wouldn’t have qualified for a marriage license in the first place, then state laws will almost certainly allow for an annulment. This reason covers situations such as a spouse who didn’t have the mental capacity to agree to get married or a spouse who was below the legal age to marry. This reason also includes marriages between close biological relatives, such as siblings, which states often don’t allow to marry.

  • Fraud or Misrepresentation

If one spouse misrepresents himself or engages in some sort of fraud in a way that is relevant to the other person’s decision to marry, the law treats the misled person as never really having consented to the marriage. For example, if one partner is sterile or has a sexually transmitted disease, and keeps that fact hidden from the other partner, the deceived partner may be able to get an annulment.

Some states may refer to fraud or misrepresentation as “concealment.” Whether called fraud, misrepresentation, or concealment, this is one category of reason where the specifics of state law vary widely. For example, one state may accept failure to disclose a recent divorce just before the current marriage as grounds for annulment, while another state may not.

  • Marrying Under Duress

If someone only agrees to marry due to a threat or as the result of force, the law may allow for an annulment as if the person had never consented to the marriage in the first place.

  • Refusal or Inability to Consummate the Marriage

If one spouse refuses or cannot have sex with the other spouse, states often accept the reason as grounds to annul the marriage.

Getting the Annulment

Many people believe that marriages can only be annulled shortly after taking place. This often isn’t true. However, many states are hesitant to annul marriages once children have been born. Even so, if a spouse can prove strong grounds under that state’s law, there usually isn’t any time limit on when a marriage can get annulled.

If the marriage has lasted long enough, the court may need to address property division and other financial issues. In addition, if the couple had children, the court generally must decide issues of child support and child custody. However, the rules governing these issues may differ from the laws that would apply in the case of divorce.