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Grounds for Annulment: Duress, Force, and Fraud

Introduction

Annulment is a legal proceeding initiated to terminate an invalid marriage and to declare that no valid marriage ever took place because of a problem existing at the time of the wedding ceremony. The basic difference between a divorce and annulment is that divorce dissolves a valid marriage, and annulment proclaims that there never was a valid marriage. Annulments are rare compared to divorces, partly because of the wide availability of no-fault divorce.

The main grounds for obtaining annulments are fraud, physical incapacity, non-age, force or duress, mental incapacity, bigamy, and consanguinity.

Duress and Force

In order to be a valid marriage, the spouses must have entered the marriage freely and voluntarily. If either party was induced to marry by force or duress, the marriage is voidable and may be annulled. To support annulment on the ground of force or duress, it is crucial that the force or threats overtake the judgment and coerce the will of the threatened spouse. Generally, the threats must be of such a nature as to inspire a real fear of bodily harm. Mere fear of disgrace without the fear of physical harm is insufficient to warrant an annulment for duress.


To base annulment on force, restraint, or threats, the duress must have been the inducing cause of the marriage such that the consent to marry would not have been given but for the duress. Moreover, the force or duress must continue to the time of the wedding ceremony. Annulment generally will not be granted for duress if the coerced spouse has the ability to escape or overcome the force or duress.

Fraud

To obtain annulment on the ground of fraud, the plaintiff must show that consent for the marriage was obtained by fraud. If such fraud is proved, the marriage is voidable and annulment may be granted. The deceit or fraud must be so fundamental to the marriage that the spouses’ relation and the marriage’s whole purpose were devoid of free consent. A marriage induced by fraud usually is considered voidable, not void, and is valid and binding between the parties unless it is annulled.
The concepts of concealment and misrepresentation are used often in annulment proceedings grounded in fraud. Fraud-based annulments are not granted as a matter of right and usually are granted only in serious cases. In most states, courts require clear and convincing evidence showing that the plaintiff would not have married but for the fraud.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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