Understanding Annulment in California

Imagine this scenario.

Greg is a San Jose computer programmer who has fallen in love with Simone, a French national who is situated in his department. Simone holds an H-3 nonimmigrant visa, and has come to Greg’s office to receive training in a computer communications system not currently available in France. Before her visa expires, he asks her to marry him. She accepts.

Within months after Greg and Simone set up house together, things go wrong. He discovers that she has been carrying on a separate relationship with another worker in their department both before and during their marriage. When he confronts her about it, she first denies it and then becomes defiant. Believing that she never intended to be faithful to him, Greg files for an annulment.

The Difference Between Annulment and Divorce

Although annulment and divorce both end a marital relationship, they are not one and the same. With divorce, a valid marriage simply ends and both parties can move on and remarry. If either spouse is asked if they have been married before, the answer is yes. Annulment, on the other hand, questions the enforceability of the marriage in the first place, questions its validity, and if it is successful, cancels a marriage completely. Once the process is complete, it is as if the union never existed. Unless they were in previous relationships, both parties can truthfully say they were never married before.

Grounds for Annulment in California

California courts may rule a marriage invalid for a number of reasons, such as:

  • One of the spouses is already married, making the union bigamous
  • One spouse is mentally ill or unable to understand the marriage contract
  • The parties are close blood relatives, such as siblings
  • One spouse was a minor at the time of the marriage
  • The marriage took place as the result of force or fraud
  • One spouse is unable to consummate the marriage due to irreparable physical disability

In Greg’s case, he is claiming that the marriage took place under fraudulent circumstances. He is alleging that Simone’s infidelity went to the ‘heart and essence’ of the marital relationship, and that such post-marital conduct suggests that she only married him to obtain permanent residency in the U.S.

Getting an Annulment in California

While not as complicated as divorces, annulments have certain requirements that must be met before the courts will issue one.

When Greg decided to annul the marriage to Simone, he had to file his request with a county court before the statute of limitations ran out. This time limit depends on the grounds for annulment. A request based on the grounds of bigamy or unsound mind can be filed at any time, while all other grounds have a four-year limitation period. Greg is alleging fraud, so his request must be made within four years.

Once the proper documents are filed, he has to ensure that Simone is served with the legal process in proper manner. She then has 30 days to respond. Ultimately, there will be a trial. if the judge decides that Greg’s petition is meritorious because Greg is able to prove Simone committed fraud, the Court will grant the annulment and issue an official court judgment. Other matters may also be addressed, such as property rights and spousal support. One of the benefits of following such legal route is that if the marriage is considered to be entered based on fraudulent intentions, Greg would not have to pay spousal support. If Greg and Simone had children, custody and visitation would have to be discussed too.

Given the complexity surrounding the annulment process in California, anyone seeking to end an invalid marriage in this manner should contact an experienced family law attorney, especially if immigration status is a factor. Ahluwalia Law P.C has years of experience with such sensitive and nuanced annulment cases, and will both help you understand your options and select the best course of action for your circumstances.

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Written by Ahluwalia Law Professional Corporation

Ahluwalia Law Professional Corporation

Welcome to Ahluwalia Law, P.C., the home of Attorney Madan Ahluwalia. Madan has been practicing law since 1994, and has been managing his own firm serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1995. He is passionate about building long-lasting relationships with each client, which begins by offering affordable, efficient, and personalized services.