Annulment or divorce? The question often arises when a married couple has decided to split up. While an annulment may seem ideal for many spouses, family law attorney Jessica Leischner explains, “the chances of qualifying for one are slim in Virginia due to the very specific grounds for an annulment.”
What is the Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment?
A divorce terminates a legally valid marriage. Whereas an annulment declares the original marriage invalid from the beginning. In order for a marriage to be annulled in Virginia, certain grounds must be met.
What Are the Grounds for Annulment in Virginia?
1) Defect in the Marriage
“The first condition for a marriage to qualify for annulment is if there was a defect in the marriage,” explains Leischner. In Virginia, a marriage is considered to have a defect if there is an error in the legality or licensing of the marriage. For example:
- The person who officiated the marriage was not legally qualified to do so
- One or both spouses were too young to legally marry
- One spouse was already married to someone else at the time
- One or both spouses were not mentally competent to marry at the time
“In the limited cases where annulments are successful,” Lesichner says, “they are generally granted because of a defect in the marriage, as those can be easier to prove.”
2) Fraud in the Marriage
Another grounds for annulment in Virginia is if there’s fraud in the marriage. In the state of Virginia, fraud must be considered specific and egregious. If you are trying to prove fraud in a marriage, it involves showing that your spouse intentionally misled you and had you known about the deception, you would not have married them. Leischner clarifies that, “fraud in the marriage is not: ‘I had this other relationship on the side prior to us getting married.’ Fraud that could lead to an annulment would need to be: ‘I’m married to someone else.’”
3) Misinformation Prior to the Marriage
Misinformation is another grounds for an annulment in Virginia. That would involve a spouse withholding pertinent information prior to the wedding that is potentially damaging to the other spouse. For example, a spouse withholding the following information prior to the marriage:
- A felony conviction
- A child or multiple children
- A pregnancy by another person within ten months of the wedding date
Both fraud and misinformation may sound easy to prove, however, Leischner points out that, “generally the courts in Virginia find that what a lot of people may think of as fraud and misinformation doesn’t rise to the level of getting a marriage annulled.” If you believe that you have grounds for an annulment in Virginia, or if you are considering getting a divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney who can help you through the process.