Annulments in Florida
April 30, 2015
U.S. Rep Alan Grayson and his wife, Lolita Grayson, have agreed to annul their marriage of 24 years because of bigamy. Lolita Grayson claimed to have been divorced since 1981, but she was still married to another man when the Graysons married in 1990. She secretly divorced the first husband in 1994. The Graysons have decided to settle, rather than airing their problems at a hearing. The terms of the settlement include an annulment of their marriage.
An annulment is different from a divorce. A divorce dissolves a valid marriage, whereas an annulment states that the marriage was never valid. In Florida, the law surrounding annulments is in case law, rather than in statutes.
The first step to getting an annulment is to bring an action in circuit court, asking for an annulment. However, the request may be denied, as annulments are difficult to obtain in Florida. Florida presumes that a marriage is valid, so a couple seeking an annulment must present strong evidence proving that the marriage is not valid.
Grounds for Annulment
In Florida, marriages that can be annulled are either void or voidable. Void means that the marriage was never valid. They cannot be made legally effective, even if both spouses want to rehabilitate the marriage. All void marriages may be annulled. Voidable marriages are considered legally valid until they have been annulled, but not every voidable marriage can be annulled.
A marriage is void if:
- The marriage is bigamous, meaning that one party was already married at the time of the marriage ceremony
- The marriage is incestuous, meaning that the spouses were too closely related to legally marry, or
- One spouse permanently lacked the mental ability to understand and consent to the marriage.
A marriage may be voidable because:
- One or both spouses temporarily lacked the ability to consent to the marriage, e.g. because of being intoxicated or having a serious temporary mental problem,
- One spouse used fraud to trick the other spouse into marriage. The fraud must go to the essence of the marital relationship. For example, lying about a health condition would not be sufficient, but never intending to consummate the marriage would be sufficient fraud,
- One or both spouses entered the marriage because of duress, meaning extreme coercion or force,
- One spouse is underage and did not have a parent or guardian’s consent,
- One spouse is impotent and the other spouse was unaware of this at the time of the marriage, or
- One or both spouses got married as a joke.
If the marriage is voidable, rather than void, the spouses can ratify the marriage, or make the marriage valid. If the spouses hold themselves out as a married couple, such as by having sexual relations, after learning about the circumstance that made the marriage voidable, they may not obtain an annulment. For example, if a couple marries while intoxicated, but then consummates the marriage after sobering up, they have ratified the marriage and may not obtain an annulment.
Effects of an Annulment
If a couple has obtained an annulment, they no longer have any of the benefits of a spouse. For example, the parties may no longer inherit based on marital status, and no longer have claim to retirement or insurance benefits, or any other benefits meant to be given to spouses.
Because there is no legal basis for the division of property after an annulment, the parties must divide the property themselves, without a court order. Permanent alimony is not usually awarded after annulments, but if one spouse is clearly an innocent victim of the other’s wrongdoing, the court may award permanent alimony.
Though an annulment states that the marriage never existed, it does not always affect the legitimacy of the couple’s children. Since voidable marriages are considered valid until they are annulled, an annulment does not affect the legitimacy of the children. However, since a void marriage was never considered valid, any children will be considered illegitimate.
If you are considering ending your marriage, an experienced attorney can help you navigate the legal process and make sure the end result is fair. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.