It was recently reported that actor, Nicolas Cage, married his girlfriend and, only four days later, filed for an annulment. While nearly everyone knows who Nicolas Cage is, the reality is that few people know the difference between a legal annulment and a divorce.
In a nutshell, a marriage is a contract in which two people mutually engage to live together in a state of union recognized by law. A divorce is a decree that the marriage contract is dissolved. An annulment is a decree that the marriage contract was never valid or should be invalidated. Therefore, in the event an annulment is granted, it is as though the marriage never existed.
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of marriages which can be annulled, specifically void and voidable. Marriages are considered void when there was an impediment to the marriage contract and where there has been no confirmation of the marriage by cohabitation following the removal of the impediment. Marriages deemed void include the following:
- Where either party at the time of the marriage had an existing spouse;
- Where the parties to the marriage were improperly related according to the law (i.e., it is illegal for someone to marry his or her sibling);
- Where either party to the marriage was incapable of consenting by reason of insanity or serious mental disorder or otherwise could not or did not intend to consent to the marriage; and
- Where either party to a purported common law marriage was under 18 years of age.
With a void marriage, the impediment prevents the formation of the contract which makes the marriage invalid. For example, someone who is already validly married cannot legally enter into a second valid marriage. As such, a wife who learns that her husband still has a living spouse from whom he was never divorced is entitled to an annulment because the husband could not legally enter into the second marriage making it void. However, if the impediment to the marriage contract is subsequently removed and the parties cohabitate thereafter, then the marriage cannot be annulled. So, in the above example, if the husband was divorced from his first wife after marrying his second wife, and then the husband and second wife cohabited, the marriage cannot be annulled.
The second type of marriage that can be annulled are voidable marriages. Voidable marriages, unlike void marriages, are not, by their very nature, invalid because of an impediment to the marriage contract. Rather the contract in a voidable marriage is presumed to be and considered valid until the entry of a decree of annulment which renders it invalid because of specific circumstances. Voidable marriages include the following:
- Where either party to the marriage was under 16 years of age unless the marriage was expressly authorized by the court;
- Where either party to the marriage was 16 or 17 years of age and lacked the consent of a parent or guardian or express authorization of the court and has not subsequently ratified the marriage upon reaching 18 years of age, and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony;
- Where either party to the marriage was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and an action for annulment is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony;
- Where either party to the marriage was at the time of the marriage and still is naturally and incurably impotent unless the condition was known to the other party before the marriage; and
- Where one party was induced to enter into the marriage due to fraud, duress, coercion or force attributable to the other party, and there has been no subsequent voluntary cohabitation after knowledge of the fraud or release from the effects of fraud, duress, coercion or force.
The bases for obtaining the annulment of a voidable marriage are not focused on impediments to the marriage contract, but are more factually specific and sometimes dependent on satisfying defined conditions. For example, someone who married at age 17 without the requisite consent of a parent or guardian or authorization of the court is entitled to an annulment only if the action is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony. By way of additional example, someone who was under the influence at the time of their marriage is entitled to an annulment if the action is commenced within 60 days after the marriage ceremony. Under both of these examples, if the 60-day condition is not met, then an annulment will not be granted.
If the grounds exist and if a spouse wants to seek the annulment of a void or voidable marriage in Pennsylvania, it is imperative to act quickly (just like Nicolas Cage) and to consult an attorney who is familiar with the intricacies of Pennsylvania law. The divorce and family law attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor, PC can assist with all of your family law matters including whether or not you have a basis for seeking an annulment. Contact our family lawyers in Montgomery County at (215) 544-3974 for a confidential discussion.