Legal Annulments 101

I frequently have potential clients call my office and say, "Yeah, I wanted to see about how much it would cost for me to get an annulment." When I hear that question I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts, and then I ask the person, "Well, what grounds do you believe you have for an annulment?" And I will get responses like, "Oh, we were only married for 2 months," or "Well, we never really slept together, so..." or "We weren't really meant to be together, and we just need this to be over with quickly." At that point I have to begin my spiel.

In Louisiana, there are two kinds of annulments. There is the RELIGIOUS kind you are going to get by going through a lengthy and expensive process with the Catholic Church-which has no legal significance, and thus I will not attempt to expound on it here-and then there is the LEGAL kind, which you can only obtain in an extremely limited set of circumstances.

In order for a marriage to be valid, 3 requirements must be met: there must not be any "legal impediments" to the marriage; there must be a "marriage ceremony"; and the Parties must mutually express their "freely given consent" to the marriage at the marriage ceremony.

A "legal impediment" to a marriage occurs when one of the Parties is already married to someone else (bigamy); the Parties are of the same sex; or when the marriage is incestuous (between ascendants and descendants, or between relatives within the fourth degree).

To have a "marriage ceremony" means both individuals are physically present-Parties cannot say your vows via Skype, FaceTime, or through a proxy. Parties must also be married by someone they at least reasonably believe to be a "qualified celebrant."

In order to express "freely given consent," a Party must not: be under duress, have a mental impediment; or be under the age of 18 (unless there's proper parental or judicial consent).

Now, failure to meet the first two requirements, a lack of "legal impediments" and a "marriage ceremony," renders a marriage absolutely null-meaning, it was never legally valid to begin with. Under these circumstances a Party may "remarry" without judicial authorization, because they technically are not "married" to anyone. But to avoid complications in paperwork, finances, the government, etc., it would be best to obtain a judicial declaration of nullity of the marriage.

A lack of "freely given consent," however, only renders a marriage relatively null- meaning it is legally valid until declared otherwise by the Court system. Also, if a relatively null marriage is "confirmed"-meaning the Parties subsequently lived together as husband and wife after the nonconsenting Party recovered their wits, then the marriage is no longer eligible to be deemed a nullity.

Absent these issues, the proper course of action if a Party desires to terminate a marital relationship is to simply obtain a divorce. Louisiana is a no fault divorce state, and it can be accomplished with relative ease-without having to allege wrongdoing on either Party's behalf, and many times without ever setting foot in a courtroom.