An annulment is a legal action that determines that the marriage is not legally valid. A divorce terminates a valid marriage. You do not hear of many marriages being annulled in New York and that is because there are very few that are. Since the stigma of divorce long ago vanished, few people look to have their marriage annulled. Because an annulment is different from a divorce, the legal grounds for such are different too. These include the following.
Bigamy. This is if one of the parties still was married to someone else at the time of the marriage in question.
A party is under age of consent. This is if one or both of the parties had not attained the age of legal consent, either party or their parent or guardian may bring an action for annulment. The age of consent in New York is eighteen.
Mentally challenged or mental illness. This is if one or both of the parties is a mentally challenged person, In such a case an action to annul the marriage may be brought at any time during the life-time of either party by any relative of the mentally challenged person.
If one of the parties is a mentally ill person, an action to annul the marriage may be brought at any time during the continuance of their mental illness, or, after the death of the mentally ill person. The party asking for the annulment must prove that he or she did not know of the mental illness at the time of the marriage. An annulment action also may be brought by the mentally ill person at any time after their “restoration to a sound mind.” But in such a case they cannot get an annulment if the parties freely cohabited as husband and wife after the mentally ill person was “restored to a sound mind.” This legal standard has some rather obvious difficulties with proof.
Physical incapacity. Either party may ask for an annulment if one of them is “physically incapable of entering into the marriage state.” That is the polite legal way of saying physically incapable of having sexual intercourse. This only applies where the incapacity continues and is incurable. Physical incapacity to have sex is not a basis for divorce and, in fact, for a divorce based upon sexual abandonment the plaintiff has to affirmative claim that the defendant was able to have sexual relations, but refused to do so.
Duress or fraud. This is when the consent to marry was obtained by duress, which is a threat of some sort. This also is when the consent to marry was obtained by some sort of fraud.
Fraud is the most common ground used for an annulment. Fraud in this context means that some material fact was misrepresented to or concealed from the party to induce them to consent. The fraud must go to the essence of the marriage contract. It is important to note that sexual intercourse evidencing forgiveness is an absolute defense to an allegation of fraud. How a court would determine if sexual intercourse evidenced forgiveness is not explained in the law.
In many respects that law of annulment is antiquated and it really is among the vestigial remains of what now is a very well developed and exhaustive body of domestic relations law in New York. Considering that now in New York all that is required for a divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage for six months, there appears to be few scenarios when parties would want to seek an annulment rather than a divorce.