Even today, there are a number of marriages where one of the party, usually the woman, does not enter into the marriage of their own free will. Although there can be any number of reasons why this may happen, one of the most frequently encountered reasons is that a woman has been subjected to pressure or coercion from her family’s religious and/or social beliefs that forces her to marry against her wishes. A woman who was the subject of such pressure may request that a court annul thw marriage.
An annulment is different from a divorce in that an annulment means the marriage was never valid to begin with while a divorce is the legal end to a valid marriage. This difference can be important in certain circumstances such as when religious beliefs do not accept a divorce but will accept an annulment that is consistent with that belief.
If an annulment is requested on the grounds that one party was pressured to marry against their wishes, the first step is to learn what the state where he or she is residing will accept as a valid reason for an annulment. Only a few states, such as Utah, will not accept coercion as a ground for annulment. Even if coercion is not accepted, there may be other reasons that can be used to support an annulment request.
Once it has been determined that a valid reason for an annulment exists, the next step is to file a motion for annulment of the marriage with the appropriate court that has the legal authority to grant such a request. In general, any court having the authority to grant a divorce case is also able to grant an annulment if the evidence presented to the court is convincing.
When the annulment request is prepared, the party requesting the annulment is called the petitioner and the other party to the marriage is called the respondent. As in any civil case such as a divorce, the respondent must be served with a notice giving him or her the opportunity to present any arguments as to why the annulment should not be granted. After hearing both sides’ arguments the court will make its ruling, which will be binding to both parties.
Although the power of a court will vary from state to state, a court that has the authority to grant divorces and annulments also has the authority to make orders regarding the distribution of any property that was acquired during the marriage, provisions for child support, or even support of a spouse. Since most annulments are granted after a relatively short period of time, it is usually a simple matter to restore both parties to their pre-marital status.
It is important to remember that an annulment ordered by a civil court is exactly that: a civil annulment. The court has no authority over any matters relating to the religious implications of an annulment to either party and these religious notions have no impact on the court’s ruling. Thus, if a religion requires some rite or ceremony to “restore” the former spouses to full participation in their faiths it is no business of the court.
In summary, an annulment can usually be granted on the grounds that one spouse was forced or coerced into the marriage, but it is necessary to consult with a domestic relations or family law attorney to learn if the state will accept coercion as a suitable reason for granting the annulment.