An annulment (or nullity) is when a judge says in a court order that your marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. This means something was legally wrong with the marriage from the start. If you get an annulment, it’s like your marriage never happened because it was never legal.
You must give a reason why your marriage wasn't legal from the start
A judge can only annul a marriage for a specific legal reason. A few examples
- One of the spouses is married to another person (bigamy)
- You got married when you were under 18 and it wasn't legal to do so
- Your spouse tricked you to get you to agree to marry them
A very short marriage is not a legal reason for an annulment. There are at least 8 legal reasons a judge can annul a marriage.
Even if you and your spouse agree to the annulment, you will have to go in front of a judge to explain why your marriage was never legal to begin with.
Talk to your court’s Self-Help Center staff to find out more about an annulment and your options. For example, you could
- Agree to go forward with asking a judge to annul your marriage
- Respond that you disagree that you qualify for an annulment
- Ask for a divorce or legal separation instead
There are many options to consider. Getting an annulment instead of a divorce can have important effects on your rights. For advice on what’s best for your situation, talk to a lawyer.
A judge can only divide your property or order spousal support if one of you thought your marriage was legal
Unlike in a divorce or legal separation, in an annulment a judge can't always divide your property and debts or order spousal support.
A judge can only do this if they find that one of you is a putative spouse. A putative spouse is someone who in good faith believed their marriage was legal.
If you can prove you are a putative spouse, you can ask the judge to divide your property and debts, and order spousal support. The person who isn't a putative spouse can't ask the judge to do either.
You can get orders about the care and support of your children
If you have children together, you may need to establish that the other person is your child's legal parent (called establishing parentage). Then, the judge can make orders about child custody, visitation (parenting time), and support.
You don't need to meet the divorce residency requirement or have a waiting period
No 6-month residency requirement: You do not need to have lived in California for 6 months and 3 months in the county where you file to start the process. You just need to live in California when you file.
No 6-month waiting period: Unlike in a divorce, you do not need to wait 6 months after your spouse was served papers for the case to be finished and go back to being single. When the court completes your final papers (your judgment), you are single.
If you don't want (or don't qualify for) an annulment, you can still end your marriage in a divorce. You can also consider a legal separation. Go to Divorce in California to learn about both.
If you want to start a the annulment process, you can go to the next step.