If you get married and realize, relatively quickly that the marriage was a mistake, then you may be a candidate to get an annulment. An annulment is a legal process where you can file a case in a Texas family court to have a judge declare that your marriage was invalid due to issues and reasons that existed before the beginning of your marriage. An annulment is different than a divorce in that an annulment would find that your marriage never occurred in the first place. It is not a dissolution of marriage like a divorce, but rather, a determination that you were never married in the first place.
If you file for an annulment and the annulment request is granted then you and your spouse would no longer be married. What you need to look at is what the impacts of the annulment may be on your life and that of your spouse. As in a divorce scenario, you need to be aware of what impacts a marriage- even if invalid- can potentially have on your property and your children. For that reason, not only is time of the essence when it comes to an annulment but so also is your ability to understand the important issues of your case and a willingness to make moves to protect your rights during this process.
Filing for an annulment is not something that you should sit around and wait on. If you think that you qualify for an annulment it is best to learn whether or not you have a legitimate case for an annulment and then go ahead and move forward to file, the annulment with a family court that would have jurisdiction over your case. Since there are so many moving pieces that are a part of this process it makes a great deal of sense to go ahead and start to prepare as diligently as possible for doing so.
Hiring an experienced family law attorney is a great place to start. Since an annulment is not guaranteed, you should speak with one of the experienced family law attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to learn more about your eligibility and the likelihood of success if you decide to file an annulment. You can also learn more about the other issues that are often relevant to an annulment.
Are an annulment and a divorce the same thing?
A divorce and an annulment are not the same things. A divorce will end a legally valid marriage. An annulment is a process whereby the result would be a family court judge declaring that you were never married in the first place. If a judge grants your annulment request it would be as if the marriage ceremony never happened and you never got married. While people going through a divorce may wish that this was also the case in their divorce, that is not how divorce works.
Children and their impact on an annulment
If you adopt children during your marriage or children are born during your marriage, then you will also need to file what is known as a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship along with your annulment petition. A SAPCR is a child custody case when the parents were never married. If your request for an annulment goes through, you will still need to handle the subject matter related to your children. This will thus be a joint annulment and custody lawsuit that you will be walking into. More reason, in our opinion for you to consider hiring an experienced family law attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Custody, conservatorship, visitation, possession, child support any other subjects are all part of a SAPCR. When you meet with an attorney to discuss your case you should make sure to mention to them that you also have minor children who will need to be involved in the case. This will impact your approach to the annulment and what other issues need to be considered throughout the life of the case.
How quickly after moving to Texas can I file for an annulment?
If you and your spouse were married in Texas then you can file for an annulment here no matter how short of a time you have lived in Texas, if at all. However, if you were married in another state and now live in Texas at least one of you or your spouse must live in Texas. Typically, that means that one of you must have been a resident of the state of Texas for at least the past six months and of the county where you will be filing your annulment for at least the past 90 days. If these jurisdictional requirements are not met, then a family court judge will not be able to issue orders granting or denying your annulment request.
Finding yourself in a situation where you need to have child custody orders issued quickly regarding your child but not having met the jurisdictional requirements of Texas family courts is a difficult position to find yourself in. This may mean that you need to file your annulment and child custody case in another state or file your child custody case in another state while you wait to file for your annulment in Texas.
Luckily, unlike in a divorce case, there is no waiting period that a judge must follow to grant you an annulment. For instance, you could file your petition to annul your marriage on one day and have the court grant your request the following day. However, bear in mind that you would have to have a hearing to have your annulment granted which can usually take a few weeks from the date on which he requests to go before the judge. Do not plan for your annulment case to be over within fewer than a few weeks at least.
What are the grounds for annulment in Texas?
There are several ways that you can successfully argue that an annulment should be granted in your case. The first is that either you or your spouse were under the age of 18 when the marriage took place. This is a straightforward argument to make where you would need to present your birth certificate to show you were under 18 when the marriage began. Or you would allege that your spouse was under 18 and then ask the court to verify her age on an official government document such as a birth certificate.
The next ground for annulment that we see quite frequently in movies and television shows is that either you or your spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time you got married. A humorous example of this situation would be if the two of you, after a long night out on the town, wandered into a 24-hour wedding Chapel and got married. If you were unable to form the proper consent to getting married, then an annulment may be possible in your situation.
Another circumstance that we sometimes see depicted in television shows or movies is the stereotypical shotgun wedding where the father of the bride forces a man to marry his daughter after impregnating her. The scene that should be familiar to most of us is the potential groom walking down the aisle with the angry father-in-law either directly behind him or somewhere in the crowd looking on menacingly. If you or your spouse were convinced to get married due to fraud, duress, or force then this is a potential ground for annulment.
Did you or your spouse lack the mental capacity required for marriage? Did you understand that you were getting married? Did you understand the ramifications that are part of this process? The responsibilities? More than that, do you have the mental acuity to care for yourself, and your spouse or take care of your activities of daily living? If not then you probably do not have the mental abilities to consent to a marriage and therefore an annulment may be a distinct possibility for you.
Were you married previously but did not disclose that to your current spouse? Did you keep a prior divorce a secret from your spouse? Did your spouse do the same to you? In Texas, this is a ground for an annulment. Proving that you were unaware of a prior divorce is another can of worms altogether. Often this ground for divorce ends up being a situation where you and your spouse engage in a spirited, he said/she didn't say the type of situation where your spouse swears that she told you that she was divorced previously. On the other hand, you would swear just as much that you had no idea of the divorce.
Finally, in Texas, you must wait at least 72 hours to get married after gaining a marriage license from your county clerk. This is important. If you get married within three days of obtaining your marriage license, then your marriage can be annulled. Check the dates on the marriage license and the date on which you got married. Within three days means you have grounds for an annulment. Whether you and your spouse plan ahead to get a license can make a big difference in this regard.
What do you need to do if you do not qualify for an annulment?
There are two paths for you to go down if you do not qualify for an annulment. The first would be a typical divorce that you see us write about on our website and hear about all over town from friends, family, and co-workers. If an annulment is not in your future, it is probably because none of the above circumstances applied to you. As such, if you do not want to continue being married then you should plan on getting a divorce.
A divorce begins with filing an Original Petition for Divorce in the county where you have resided for at least the past ninety days and after having resided in Texas for at least the preceding 6 months. The divorce can be filed in either your county of residence or that of your spouse if you and he/she are not living together. Your spouse would then file an Answer to your Petition and the two of you would then engage in the divorce negotiations that you hear about so much in our world today. Splitting up time with the kids and your property are the two primary parts of a divorce.
The Final Decree of Divorce is the final document in a Texas divorce case. It contains your marching orders- the orders signed off on by a judge that will tell you exactly how to divide your marital property as well as how your child's time will be divided between you and your co-parent. You need to be very familiar with these orders and learn them well. Not only for your well-being but for that of your children. Working together with your ex-spouse on co-parenting issues will be a post-case scenario that you should focus on as well. Just because your marriage is ending does not mean another relationship is not beginning- the co-parenting relationship.
The other method of ending your marriage is a process called a suit to declare the marriage void. This is a valid legal process in Texas but is not as widely utilized as a divorce. A suit to declare a marriage void is a legal process where your marriage is determined to be void from the beginning which would bar a valid marriage relationship from forming. From this angle, a suit to declare a marriage void may be very similar to that of an annulment.
What is a putative spouse?
A putative spouse is one where a person, in good faith, believes that he or she is entering into a valid marriage because he or she did not know of the facts that caused the marriage to be void. Good faith belief can be determined in part by considering the marriage documents, divorce documents, marriage ceremony events, whether you and your spouse lived together, and the age of the putative spouse. If you are very young and are a putative spouse, then this will be a point in your favor.
Being a putative spouse in the eyes of a court is important, especially in the division of marital property. The community property laws of Texas do not apply to non-marital relationships. If you and your boyfriend break up then the community property laws of Texas do not apply to the house you purchased during your marriage, your retirement savings contributed to during the marriage, or any other property acquired during the marriage. This can be disastrous for a putative spouse who in good faith believed that you have been involved in a valid marriage.
A putative spouse holds the same property rights as an actual spouse. This means that you are eligible for spousal maintenance and for community property laws to apply to the property acquired during the marriage. When it comes to children’s issues then a SAPCR would need to be filed along with the suit to declare a marriage void.
Grounds to declare a marriage void
In a suit to declare a marriage void, if you are the petitioning party then you will want to familiarize yourself with the following grounds for declaring the marriage void. The first is incest. If you and your spouse are related to each other by a common ancestor or descendant, half or whole brother or sister, or half or whole aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew then your marriage is void.
Bigamy is another ground for declaring your marriage void. If you or your spouse were still married when you all tied the knot, then your most recent marriage is void. If you are the spouse who has filed a suit to declare a marriage void then you need to prove that your spouse was married before and that the earlier marriage did not end by death, divorce, or annulment. You would have to show that your spouse’s first spouse was still alive and did not die on the date that you all got married. Additionally, you would need to prove that you looked for a divorce or annulment in every county that your spouse has lived in previously.
There are moving pieces going on here whether you have filed for annulment, divorce or to declare a marriage void. When you are dealing with unfamiliar subject matter as well as high stakes for you, your children, and the property you are best off working with an experienced Texas family law attorney.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.