There are some circumstances where a marital union must be dissolved without the need for a divorce. The annulment of marriage is one such instance. An annulment is a judicial determination that a valid marriage did not occur. In Michigan, an annulment applies to, and will dissolve, two categories of marriages, both of which are defined by state statute and contain different grounds for granting the annulment.
Void Ab Initio Annulments
Void Ab Inito annulments dissolve marriages retroactively, meaning that the marriage is declared legally void from the beginning. The legal outcome of the annulment is to treat the marriage as if it never happened.
There are four grounds under which a marriage can be annulled as absolutely void:
- Bigamy – Pursuant to MCL 552.1 and MCL 551.5, a marriage is absolutely void if either of the parties already had a living spouse at the time of the marriage.
- Parties are Related – Pursuant to MCL 552.1, a marriage between two persons who are related within a certain degree of consanguinity (blood relationship) or affinity (relationship between a spouse and a blood relative of the other spouse), are absolutely void if the marriage occurred in the state of Michigan. However, such marriages are not void if the marriage was legal in the state in which it was solemnized, and the couple later moved to Michigan. The forbidden relationships are identified in MCL 551.3 (for men) and MCL 551.4 (for women).
- Incompetence – Pursuant to MCL 552.1, a marriage performed when either of the parties was not legally capable of contracting is absolutely void if solemnized in Michigan. However, if the party at some point later becomes capable in law of contracting, i.e. becomes competent, and the parties continue to cohabitate together as husband and wife, the marriage will not be annulled.
- One of the spouses was under the age of 16 – According to MCL 552.2, a minor under the age of 16 cannot contract to marry, and such a marriage is absolutely void.
If a marriage is absolutely void from the beginning based on one of the above referenced circumstances that existed at the time of the marriage, technically no legal process is required to dissolve the marriage. The mere existence of the requisite circumstance voids the marriage.
However, judicial action or involvement is often desired, and even necessary, in order to resolve other issues which exist as a consequence of the marriage, including property disputes, arrangements for custody, parenting time, and support of any children.
The second category of marriages that are dissolved by an annulment are those that are voidable. These marriages are considered to be valid marriages up until the time an annulment is sought. There are three grounds by statute under which a marriage can be annulled as voidable, and other grounds have been established by the courts pursuant to case law.
- Underage marriage without consent – A minor between the ages of 16 and 18 can only get married upon the written consent of one or more of his or her parents or legal guardians. Marriages involving such a minor without the proper written consent are voidable. If the parties continue living together as husband and wife after both have reached the age of majority, the marriage will not be annulled.
- Marriage procured through fraud or duress – According to MCL 552.2, if a marriage was procured through fraud or duress, it is voidable. However, if both parties continue to voluntarily live together as husband and wife after the fraud or duress is discovered, the marriage will not be annulled. The Michigan Supreme Court in Yanoff v Yanoff, 237 Mich 383 (1927), established that “the fraud necessary to vitiate the marriage contract must relate to an essential element of the contract, be of a nature wholly subversive to the true essence of the relationship, affect the free conduct of the wronged party, and be clearly established.” Examples include a woman fraudulently telling a man he is the father of her child to get him to marry her, or one party subjecting the other to the undue influence of drugs or alcohol to get them to marry.
- Impotence/Sterility – If a party to a marriage has a physical inability to conceive children, knows of this fact at the time of the marriage, and fails to disclose it to the other, the marriage is voidable. An action for annulment under this ground, however, must be brought within two years from the date of the marriage. Additionally, the inability to conceive must have been present at the time of the marriage, and must be incurable.
Property Distribution, Spousal Support and Children Custody
Children born during marriages that are later annulled, including those deemed absolutely void, are still considered legitimate children under Michigan law. As part of the Court’s involvement in the annulment process, orders regarding custody, parenting time, and child support will be issued.
Once a complaint for annulment is filed, the case proceeds in a similar fashion to a divorce action under MCL 552.3. Property distribution in an annulment follows the same general principle as in divorce cases. In other words, the court must make an equitable distribution of all of the property based upon the circumstances.
The primary difference between annulments and divorces with respect to property distribution is in the area of spousal support. Permanent spousal support is generally not awarded in annulments, because MCL 552.23 allows for spousal support awards upon the entry of a judgment of divorce or separate maintenance only.