Our Kansas City law firm has extensive experience in proceedings for declaration of invalidity of marriage, commonly known as an annulment. An annulment is different from a dissolution of marriage in that a dissolution terminates a valid marriage as of the date of the divorce decree, whereas an annulment declares the marriage invalid from its very beginning.
In Missouri, there is a very strong presumption that the marriage is valid, and a strong public policy in favor of marriage. This, in short, means that an annulment is difficult to obtain in Missouri, as the case must fit into one of several specific categories. Annulment in Missouri applies to two types of "marriages": Void marriages and voidable marriages. Void marriages are marriages that were never legal to begin with, and thus invalid, where voidable marriages are presumed to be valid to begin with.
Grounds for Annulment in Missouri
The following "marriages" are either void or voidable under Missouri law, and most can be terminated by an Annulment proceeding:
Spouses are Relatives
The following decrees of relationships between Husband and Wife constitute a void marriage: parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, whole and half siblings, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, and first cousins. This type of marriage can be terminated by an Annulment.
Common Law Marriage
A common law marriage is recognized in some states when a man and a woman hold themselves out to be married for a certain number of years, they become married by operation of law. This is not recognized in Missouri and is a void marriage
Lack of Mental Capacity
A marriage between spouses when one spouse did not have the mental capacity to enter into the contract of marriage, it is void. This can include insanity, distinguished from mental illness (which alone is not sufficient for annulment), intoxication at the time of marriage, or unconsciousness.
A marriage entered into by fraud is voidable. However, what constitutes fraud for purposes of annulment is not the same as fraud generally, and only applies to limited circumstances. Fraud that supports an annulment must be essential to the marriage relationship, such as something intimate in nature. This can include failure to disclose the inability to have children, inability to engage in normal sexual relations, or the presence of a sexually transmitted disease. Things such as failure to disclose debt, previous sexual relationships, health issues, drug or alcohol use or addiction, and gambling, are not recognized as fraud for purposes of annulment.
Note that a misrepresentation alone is not a sufficient basis for annulment based on fraud, but there must be a false, material representation made to one spouse by the other that the spouse knows is false, and it must have been accepted as the truth by the other spouse.
Duration of Marriage
The fact that a marriage is of a short duration, in and of itself, is not grounds for Annulment in Missouri.
Lack of Assent
For a marriage to be valid, both spouses must assent (approve/consent) to the marriage. A marriage where one spouse lacks assent is void and can be terminated by Annulment.
Sexual impotency, the inability to have normal sexual intercourse, either by the male or female, is grounds for annulment provided that the impotency is permanent, incurable, and it was not known at the time of the marriage (although it may have existed).
The term duress describes threats, violence, or constraints used to compel a person to act. In Missouri, a marriage entered into by duress can be terminated by annulment. However, mere apprehension of injury, or even possible injury, is not sufficient. It must be a degree of violence, either threatened or impending, that would overcome the mind of a reasonable person. Basically, the duress must be of a very high degree, such as a rape victim marrying her rapist.
In Missouri, the legal age to marry is 18, unless there is written consent of the minor's custodial parent. Also, a person under the age of 15 cannot legally marry without a court order showing good cause due to unusual conditions making the marriage advisable.
Failure to Consummate
Failure to consummate the marriage by having sexual intercourse is not grounds for annulment, unless it falls within the categories of either fraud or sexual impotence as described above.
A bigamous marriage occurs when one of the spouses was already married at the time of the marriage, and is void. However, to terminate the marriage by annulment, the moving party has the burden to show satisfactory proof to the Court that the previous marriage existed, was valid, and was not terminated by divorce or death.
Same Sex Marriage
Same sex marriages are not recognized in Missouri and are void, even if valid where contracted. However, same sex marriage is not grounds for annulment in Missouri, as Missouri statutes declare that same sex marriages are not recognized in Missouri "for any purpose". This includes annulment proceedings, and Missouri Courts do not have authority to annul a same sex marriage that was legally contracted in another state.
Annulment or Divorce – Implications
When dealing with a voidable marriage where a party has a choice between annulment and divorce, a thorough case analysis must be made, as the body of law is different for marriages that end in divorce as opposed to those that end in annulment. If the marriage is declared null and void from the beginning, it is as if it never existed, and the dissolution of marriage laws governing property division, maintenance, child support, child custody, attorney fees, and restraining orders will not apply. Depending on the case, this can have serious implications and may make the case much more complicated than a divorce proceeding. It is important to discuss the implications of an annulment proceeding thoroughly with a qualified divorce and family law attorney before making the decision to proceed.
The choice of a divorce or annulment attorney is an important one. Mark A. Wortman is an experienced and top Kansas City annulment, divorce, and family attorney practicing in Kansas City Missouri and surrounding areas. Please call us today at (816) 523-6100 to arrange for a consultation. We are always happy to help.
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