An annulment is when the court declares a marriage to be invalid. Therefore, it is often referred to as a declaration of invalidity of marriage. Annulments apply retroactively to the date of the purported marriage. When a marriage is declared invalid, it is legally as if it had never happened. That makes it different from a divorce proceeding. Annulments are also quite rare in Illinois.

Because an annulment means the marriage never happened, there are no marital assets or marital debts to divide. Moreover, there is no basis for maintenance (also known as spousal support or alimony) in annulment cases, because there never was a spouse to support.

Annulments are only available in very limited circumstances. In Illinois, the legal grounds for seeking an annulment include:

  • Where one party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage at the time the marriage was solemnized. Lack of capacity may be the result of:
    • mental incapacity;
    • mental infirmity;
    • being under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
    • duress; or
    • fraud involving the essentials of marriage.
  • Where one party was unable to consummate the marriage physically. However, this is only the basis for an annulment if the other party did not know of the inability.
  • Where one party was under 18 and did not have the consent of his parents, legal guardian, or judicial approval.
  • Where the marriage is prohibited.

The law treats prohibited marriages differently than it does invalid marriages due to lack of capacity, inability to consummate the marriage, and minority of a party. Marriages that are void as a result of being a prohibited marriage under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act do not need to be invalidated in court. They are automatically void. Marriages between closely related kinfolk and marriages to more than one person at a time are prohibited under Illinois law.

The statute of limitations for seeking an annulment varies depending on the grounds for the annulment. When a party lacked capacity to consent, the petition to declare the marriage invalid must be filed within 90 days of the other party obtaining knowledge of the incapacity. When an inability to consummate the marriage is the grounds for annulment, the petition must be filed within a year of obtaining knowledge of the inability. When the issue is the age of a party, the underage party or his or her parent or legal guardian may petition the court before the minor reaches the age of consent. In Illinois, if the time frame for annulment has lapsed and no petition is filed, the marriage will be recognized as legal and valid.

The most common types of cases which lead to annulment are those in which the parties were married while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances. However, just because the marriage was regrettable and short-lived does not mean that grounds for annulment exist. Legally, it does not matter how regrettable or how short in duration the marriage was. Additionally, in cases involving fraud, the alleged fraud must have occurred prior to the marriage, In other words, just because you learn something unsavory about your spouse after the marriage does not automatically constitute a legal basis to declare the marriage invalid. Even in cases where both parties want an annulment, there are strict requirements and findings which must be made for the court to invalidate a marriage.

If you have questions about whether your marriage may be annuled, contact the attorneys at Kollias & Giese, P.C. for information on the legal procedure and advice on how to proceed.