In an annulment, the courts terminate a marriage. It differs from a divorce in that the courts actually declare the marriage null and void, as if it never took place. Numerous grounds for annulment exist, including if one or both parties were under legal age for marrying, one party was legally married to another person prior to entering the current marriage, or one person was unable or unwilling to consummate the marriage. Additional grounds for annulment include the marriage being entered into by force or under duress and concealment of important information, such as a criminal history or having a sexually transmitted disease.
Having another living spouse at the time of the marriage is one of the grounds for annulment. This deception allows the court to declare an invalid marriage contract. This is true even if the new spouse was aware of the previous spouse at the time of the marriage.
In other situations, one party may be under the age of legal consent for marriage. Age requirements vary depending upon jurisdiction. In certain cases, this rule may still be applicable if the couple traveled to a different location that had a lower legal marriage age in order to marry, but annulment laws differ regarding this situation depending on the jurisdiction.
There also are extenuating circumstances that may provide grounds for an annulment. For instance, an individual who was threatened or forced into a marriage usually has grounds for annulment. Discovering that the spouses are close blood relatives is also grounds for annulment in many jurisdictions. Likewise, proof that one of the parties based the marriage upon fraudulent statements could end in marriage dissolution. For instance, a person marrying for the purpose of obtaining citizenship has committed a fraud in most jurisdictions, creating grounds for annulment.
In a marriage in which one party cannot consummate the marriage, an annulment may be an option. When a party is impotent and did not disclose this fact prior to marriage, grounds for annulment typically have been met. An annulment also may be granted in cases in which one party simply refuses to consummate the marriage.
An individual also may seek annulment to ensure that he or she will be able to marry later in the Catholic Church. Even when a legal divorce exists, the Catholic Church still views the couple as married. As part of the process, the Catholic Church requires that the former spouse be notified of intention to seek annulment, giving him or her the opportunity to make a statement, if desired. This is done without the former-spouses having to make contact of any kind.