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Annulments in Florida

Posted on September 21, 2015

Most people associate annulments with decrees from religious entities declaring a marriage never existed, but there are also civil annulments granted by courts who find a marriage was void or voidable by law. It is important to note at the outset that civil annulments are completely separate and distinct from religious-based annulments and securing one does not have any bearing on the outcome of the other. Recently, a circuit court judge in Orange County granted an annulment for Senate hopeful Alan Grayson on the grounds that his purported wife was still legally married to another man at the time of their marriage. Unlike the no-fault divorce typically used to end a union between couples, annulments are only granted under specific circumstances and are very dependent on factual determinations by a judge. While annulments can simplify severing ties in some respects, like inheritance and insurance benefits, the existence of children or commingled assets become much more complex to unravel. In an effort to help those wanting to know their options for legally ending a marriage, the grounds under which a court will grant an annulment will be reviewed, along with a consideration of the effect of an annulment on financial and child custody issues.

Grounds for Annulment

Florida does not have any statutes directly related to annulments, so the law in this area developed through judges’ decisions in court cases. Legal determinations created this way create a lot of uncertainty because there is no black and white definition of what does and does not qualify for an annulment. There are, however, statutes that prohibit marriage in certain situations, and a court will grant an annulment if a person can prove one of the following circumstances existed at the time of marriage: marriage between blood relatives, bigamy or marriage to another person while already married, a couple is under the age of 18 and does not have parental consent, or if one spouse permanently lacks the capacity to consent to marriage. In these cases, the marriage is considered void, which means it never legally existed. Since these marriages were never legal, you are not required to get an annulment to sever the union, but it advisable to petition for one in order to protect your financial and domestic interests.

In addition to prohibited marriages, courts determined in past cases a marriage can be voidable under specified circumstances. A marriage that is voidable will not automatically be cancelled because it was not invalid from the start. It requires one spouse to contest the validity of the marriage, and a court to decide there are grounds to annul the union based on facts that show continuing the marriage would be unjust to one of the spouses or be in contradiction to the institution of marriage. The following are some common grounds for annulment: one spouse lacked the capacity to consent to marriage at the time of the ceremony due to a temporary mental problem or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, one party used fraud or misrepresentation to trick the other spouse to marry them (for example, one spouse hides facts about being unable to have children), the marriage was not consummated, the marriage was a sham (i.e., getting married to aid someone’s immigration status), or the couple got married as a joke.

Legal Effect of an Annulment on Assets and Children

Courts typically do not want to get involved with property division in an annulment case and mainly leave it to the parties to divide property themselves in an effort to restore each to the same place they were prior to the marriage. However, if courts do get involved they will apply the same guidelines to property division used in divorce cases for assets that belong to both spouses. This means the property is equally divided between the two parties unless a court determines unequal distribution is just after looking at certain factors listed in the Florida statute. Some of the factors a court can look at include how long the couple was married, the economic circumstances of each spouse, or intentionally depleting or destroying assets to prevent the other spouse from gaining a share. Further, a spouse’s interests as a beneficiary to life insurance policies, pensions, IRAs and other similar financial assets are dissolved once the annulment is granted. Courts have granted temporary alimony in some cases and ordered the spouse with more means to pay for all attorney fees, but permanent alimony is not available outside of extraordinary circumstances.

When it comes to child custody, the courts will apply the same standards and guidelines used to determine custody, visitation and child support issues in divorce proceedings regardless of whether the annulment was for a void or voidable marriage. Children of couples who had a prohibited or void marriage will not be considered legitimate under Florida law because the marriage was never valid, but this distinction does not affect how the court treats child custody issues.

There are many reasons to end a marriage, and annulment petitions are complex. If you believe your situation merits an annulment, it is important to retain legal counsel to advise you on the best course of action to protect your family and financial assets. Stok Kon + Braverman is prepared to provide you with a consultation on your case in Fort Lauderdale. Reach out today to see how we can help.

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