In Ohio, a married couple may terminate a marriage in one of three ways: dissolution, divorce, or annulment. Dissolution, often referred to as “no fault” divorce, is legal method to terminate a marriage whereby the parties do not assign fault for the end of the marriage. Rather, the parties work amicably to resolve their differences and to enter into a settlement agreement, which terminates the marriage. Conversely, divorce (which can be based on fault or no-fault) is when the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement to terminate the marriage. Rather, the couple petitions the court to end the marriage, divide property, allocate child custody rights.
The third option—annulment—is not known as well as the other options. This is primarily because annulments do not occur that often and are allowed in only certain situations.
What is Annulment?
In very limited circumstances, a legal annulment is an alternative to divorce or dissolution. An annulment treats a marriage as though it never took place, which means the rights and obligations that exist in a marriage never existed. Because of the effect that an annulment has on the couple’s legal rights, annulment may only be used in certain circumstances. Under Ohio law, marriage may be annulled for any of the following causes existing at the time of the marriage:
- One the parties to the marriage was underage at the time of the marriage, unless after attaining such age such party cohabited with the other as husband or wife;
- One of the parties was married to another husband or wife at the time of the marriage and the marriage is still in force;
- One of the parties has been adjudicated to be mentally incompetent, unless such party after being restored to competency cohabited with the other as husband or wife;
- The marriage was obtained through fraud, unless such party afterwards, with full knowledge of the facts constituting the fraud, cohabited with the other as husband or wife;
- Consent to the marriage of either party was obtained by force, unless such party afterwards cohabited with the other as husband or wife; and
- That the marriage between the parties was never consummated although otherwise valid.
If a couple qualifies for an annulment, the process generally proceeds on the same path as a divorce. If the parties agree on annulment, the process can be completed relatively quickly in the courts. If one party contests the annulment, however, the process can take significantly longer.
Benefits and Disadvantages of Annulment vs Divorce or Dissolution
If annulment is an option for a couple, there are several advantages that the process offers compared to divorce or dissolution. The main benefit is that the law treats the marriage as though it never occurred. For whatever reason, there is sometimes a social stigma associated with divorce. Annulment, however, does not come with the same misconceptions and social criticism. What is more, some religions look down on someone who has been divorced. The same might not necessarily be said for someone who has had a marriage annulled.
A downside to an annulment proceeding, however, is that spousal support may not be awarded. Also, there is no marital property subject to division, and each party retains the same property that they had when they entered into the marriage. Furthermore, the parties do not share in any debt or financial liabilities. Depending on one’s financial situation, this can either be a positive or negative.
Also, attorneys’ fees may be difficult to obtain in an annulment proceeding. While Ohio permits an award of all or part of reasonable attorney’s fees and litigation expenses to either party, the court has discretion to award fees and expenses where equitable. Notably, a court will look to the conduct of the parties or any other relevant factors the court deems appropriate. Often, this will require some showing of fraud or other wrongdoing, which is not necessarily easy to prove.
Contact a Cleveland, Ohio Adoption Attorney
An experienced Ohio divorce attorney can help provide advice on whether you qualify for annulment. Laubacher & Co.’ Cleveland divorce attorneys have experience in all types of marriage termination proceedings, including divorce, dissolution, annulment, legal separation, and collaborative divorce. Contact one of Laubacher & Co.’ Cleveland adoption attorneys today for a free consultation.