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Annulments Are Not Just For Short Marriages And The Church



Rick S. Cowle, Esq.

What Is A Civil Annulment?

The dissolution of marriage is typically obtained through a divorce proceeding. However, another option for those who wish to avoid having a divorce on record is an annulment. When people think of annulling a marriage, they usually think in terms of a church sanctioned procedure. A religious annulment is a process of obtaining a judgment on the part of an ecclesiastical tribunal to determine that a marriage was invalidly contracted, or invalidly conferred. However, an annulment can also be obtained civilly under the New York Domestic Relations Law with a judgment declaring the marriage a nullity or void.

There are a number of vehicles or causes of action that a spouse can use to obtain a civil annulment in New York. For those who qualify for an annulment, a divorce proceeding can be avoided. Through an annulment, the courts will expunge any record of a marriage having ever existed. However there are certain guidelines under New York Law that must be followed to obtain an annulment.

One such cause of action is that of bigamy. If a person discovers that his or her spouse is a bigamist the marriage can be annulled. However his or her spouse must be married to someone else and the mystery husband or wife must still be alive for the cause of action to be valid. Another cause of action would be if one of the parties in a marriage is under the age of legal consent. This cause of action for annulment may be maintained by the underage spouse, their parent or guardian or the court. For instance, a parent or guardian of their underage daughter can petition the court on their own to annul the marriage.

One can also maintain a cause of action for annulment if a husband or wife discovers that his or her spouse is “physically incapable of entering into the marriage state” as long as that person was unaware that her spouse was incapacitated when she entered into the marriage, and the action is started within five years of the marriage. A person may also maintain an action for annulment if a party to the marriage is mentally ill or retarded.

If a person consents to marry by force, duress or fraud, the marriage can also be annulled. Thus, if one marries under false pretenses and he or she would not have entered into the marriage if they knew the truth, a fraud action can be maintained as long as it is started within six years of the marriage. For example, if a spouse discovers after marrying that her husband is a cross dresser or a drug addict and she had no idea about his habit she can maintain an action for fraud within six years of the marriage as long as her husband was exhibiting this behavior before she married him but she had no knowledge of it.

Remember, a person must meet the criteria for at least one of the causes of action under New York Domestic Relations Law in order to successfully obtain an annulment. So for those who would prefer to check the box “single” rather than “divorced” an annulment may be the way to go if they qualify. Try counseling first but if that doesn’t work, consult with an attorney to determine if an annulment is an alternative.

Rick S. Cowle is an attorney admitted to practice law in New York, Connecticut, The District of Columbia and The United States Supreme Court. He is president of The Law Office of Rick S. Cowle, PC a general practice law firm located at 95 Gleneida Avenue, Carmel, NY 10512, 845-225-3026, e-mail: RCowle Law@, Web Site:

This article is meant for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship or to give legal advice.