There are basically three general avenues by which a marriage can end: death, divorce and annulment. Death is obvious and divorce is the most commonly thought of endpoint to a marriage when death does not terminate it first. The often less contemplated end to a marriage is by annulment. The difference between divorce and annulment is as follows: Divorce terminates a valid marriage and annulment is a declaration by the court that the parties’ marriage was never valid (i.e. a void marriage).
In Maryland, a marriage is valid if both parties exchange vows in the presence of a celebrant authorized to perform marriages in the State of Maryland. Until recently, only a man and woman could be married to one another in Maryland. However, that changed on January 1, 2013 when same-sex marriage became legal in Maryland after being approved by a state wide voter referendum.
If a couple goes through a marriage ceremony as set forth above, there are several ways an annulment can come into play as opposed to a divorce. First, if the parties are related in certain ways, the marriage can either be void (it never existed in the first place) or voidable (it can be voided by one of the parties in an annulment proceeding). There are other possible ways a marriage can be void or voidable and thus subject to annulment:
- Bigamy (one spouse is still married to a third party at the time of marriage);
- Intoxication by a party during the ceremony;
- One spouse being tricked into the marriage by the fraudulent misrepresentation of another or
- One party claiming the other party (or a third party) forced them to marry (i.e. duress).
Courts generally are reluctant to grant annulments given the traditional sanctity of marriage. However, in the event the court does grant an annulment, issues which are typically present in divorce proceedings can also apply: child custody/support, alimony and property distribution.
If you believe you may have grounds to end your marriage on the basis of annulment instead of divorce, you should contact a competent attorney who can assess the facts of your case and counsel you accordingly.