Even though it makes headlines when celebrities like KENNY CHESNEY and RENEE ZELLWEGER get an annulment of their four month marriage based on fraud, annulments are relatively rare.
Fraud is usually the basis for an annulment. Examples are failure to disclose a previous marriage, criminal record, infectious disease, the inability to have children, or the desire not to have children. Annulments have also been granted where a spouse mistakenly believes they have been divorced or widowed when in fact they are not, or the spouses are too closely related, or one party is underage, and did not obtain appropriate parental consent.
In Maryland, a void marriage means there is some legal defect that invalidates the marriage such as a spouse that is married to someone else at the time of the second marriage or the parties are blood relatives or one is underage. You do not need to file a petition for an annulment with the court in the case of a void marriage although it may be wise to do so anyway so that you have a court order of annulment.
A voidable marriage, on the other hand, can only be annulled by filing a petition for annulment with the court and having a judge declare the marriage not to have happened. Examples of voidable marriages are sham marriages or joke marriages where the parties did not really intend to marry, like BRITNEY SPEARS’ 55 hour marriage in Las Vegas. You can also ask the court for an annulment if you or your spouse were incapacitated at the time of marriage, as in insanity, intoxication, fraud or duress. Fraud can be hard to prove to a judge especially when the annulment is contested, so most people opt for a divorce instead. A divorce says the marriage is over. An annulment says it never happened.
Even CHESNEY and ZELLWEGER had trouble explaining fraud:
“Fraud was simply legal language and not a reflection of KENNY’s character,” said ZELLWEGER.
“The only fraud that was committed was me thinking that I knew what it was like…that I really understood what it was like to be married, and I really didn’t,” said CHESNEY.
The couple also issued a joint statement through a spokesperson in which they attributed the annulment to a “miscommunication of the objective of their marriage.”
It would be quite logical to think if a marriage is annuled, it is as if it never happened, and there will be no alimony or property division. The law, however, gives the court the right to award alimony and divide property in an annulment. This protects the party who thought the marriage was real.