In North Carolina, there are two options for legally ending a marriage: divorce and annulment. Although both processes terminate the relationship and leave you free to remarry, there is a fundamental difference: divorce ends a legal marriage while an annulment states that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Contrary to popular belief, in North Carolina, the couple must be separated for at least one year and one day in order to obtain a divorce or an annulment.
Other differences include:
- With an annulment, no spousal support is payable because no legal union ever existed, although child support will be ordered if you had children together.
- With an annulment, the Court has no authority to divide your property equitably, because legally there was never a marital estate.
Below is an overview of seven grounds for obtaining an annulment of your marriage in North Carolina.
Any marriage between two people who are more closely related than first cousins is voidable under state law. This includes parent-child or sibling-sibling unions, as well as double first cousins (the children produced by two marriages, both of which involve the same sets of grandparents; for example, if two sisters marry two brothers, their children could not marry each other).
2. One Or Both Spouses Were Underage
Minors can only marry in North Carolina with parental/guardian consent. If you are under 16 and get married without your parents/guardians knowing about and/or agreeing to the union, the marriage can be annulled unless you or your spouse were pregnant or had given birth between the ages of 14 and 16; except that if you or your spouse become pregnant or give birth while under the age of 16, your marriage can only be annulled if the baby is deceased at the time the annulment request is made.
3. The Marriage Was Bigamous
If you get married while you have a legal spouse still living, the marriage is invalid Technically, because the marriage is void, you do not need to obtain an annulment (because the marriage is seen as never having existed in the first place). This is critically important when it comes to asserting marital rights, when none exist! Bigamy is also a Class I felony in North Carolina, and a conviction carries a minimum sentence of three to twelve months in prison.
If one partner is unable to engage in sexual relations, you can annul the marriage, although the impotency must generally have been unknown beforehand, and will require a medical diagnosis.
5. Lack of Consent
If you entered into the marriage under duress or because you were forced or tricked, or because you did not have the capacity to form the will or want to marry, you can annul the relationship afterward. It is recommended that you do so as soon as possible: if you continue living with your spouse afterward, obtaining an annulment may be challenging.
6. Mental Illness
If one spouse has a serious and debilitating mental illness that was not revealed before the marriage took place, the other spouse can request that the marriage be voided.
7. Mistaken Belief of Pregnancy
If the marriage took place because the wife was mistakenly believed to be pregnant with her spouse’s child, the relationship can be annulled.
Despite the above, no marriage followed by cohabitation and the birth of children shall be declared void after the death of either of the parties for any reason other than bigamy.
If you are concerned that your marriage is legally invalid, you should consult with a North Carolina family law attorney as soon as possible. At Haas & Associates, P.A., we will review the circumstances surrounding the relationship and advise you whether you can proceed with an annulment under state law. To schedule a confidential consultation, please contact us.