A common belief is that a spouse may obtain a quick annulment of a marriage versus an actual divorce if they have been married for less than six months. While that may be the case elsewhere, it is not the case in the State of Maryland. In Maryland, an annulment can only be granted when a marriage is invalid because it is void or voidable, never due to the length of time, or lack thereof, that the parties resided together as husband and wife. The grounds for an annulment, making the marriage void or voidable, arise before the date of the actual marriage ceremony.
A void marriage was never valid, and a party can not waive the grounds that make the marriage void because these grounds implicate public policy concerns. Not only can a party to the marriage file for an annulment of this marriage, but so can a third party. A marriage is void if at the time of the marriage ceremony: either party was legally married to someone else, if you are related to your marriage partner, or if one of the marriage parties is insane or lacks the mental capacity to enter into the marriage. Not too long ago, I had a case where I obtained an annulment for a client because her husband was actually still married to his first wife. She thought her ‘husband’ was divorced and in fact, so did he, believing that he had obtained a divorce in another country over ten years ago. Needless to say, her ‘husband’ was served with a Complaint for Absolute Divorce from his first wife, after being ‘married’ to his second wife (my client) for four years. Ultimately the Mexican divorce he thought he had been granted over ten years ago, was not obtained in accordance with the Laws of the State of Maryland and he was still legally married to his first wife. In that situation, my client’s marriage was annulled because the marriage was never valid from the beginning – it was void.
A voidable marriage is valid until you receive an annulment and the grounds that make the marriage voidable are waiveable and can only be raised by the parties to the marriage. A marriage is voidable if at the time of the marriage ceremony one of the parties to the marriage was not of legal age, if the marriage was entered into under duress (physical force) or fraud (misrepresentation or concealment from one party to the other that is essential to the marriage), and if one of the parties lacked capacity to enter into the marriage due to mental illness and/or temporary lack of capacity (think Britney Spears in Las Vegas).
In Maryland, if the court does grant an annulment they can award spousal support and child support, as well as divide property (see Section 8-202 of the Family Law Article, Annotated Code of Maryland) and decide custody of the children, as they could in a divorce proceeding. In practice, an annulment can be hard to achieve, and if the Judge denies your request, then a divorce proceeding is your next option. An experienced family law attorney will be able to assist you in deciding the best avenue to pursue.