When I was growing up, I was taught that once you married, you were married forever the marriage contract could not be undone. This principle was taught in many religions and the principle made its way into the civil law of most every Christian country.
In England, there were ecclesiastical courts. These courts could not dissolve a marriage but they could declare that the marriage never existed – that is, they could void the marriage. It appears that the ecclesiastical courts did quite a stroke of business.
Business was so good apparently that the government wanted to get in on the act. It was in this fashion that the law of annulments began.Some marriages are void from the beginning.
For example, in New Hampshire incestuous marriages violate the law and those marriages are void without having to get a court to say as much. Bigamy also renders a marriage absolutely void without the need to get a court decree. If you know you are married and seek to marry again, you lack the power to contract. Age, too, plays a factor. When I was 13, I had my eyes on a girl 12. I wouldn’t have been able to marry the girl and she wouldn’t have been able to marry me because we weren’t of the age of consent. Any attempt to marry at those ages would have been void. Finally – until recently – you couldn’t marry a person of your own gender.
What lawyers generally see when dealing with annulments are petitions to annul for cause. The cause is usually fraud in the inducement. For example, let’s say you meet someone and they tell you they legally immigrated to this country a dozen or so years ago. The truth is they are wanted for murder in a different country and they snuck into the United States to avoid being prosecuted. The test to be applied when considering an annulment under these circumstances is this: The fraudulent representation for which a marriage may be annulled must be something that relates to the marital relationship itself. It must go the essence of the relationship. It must be something that makes it impossible to perform the duties and carry out the obligations of a marriage and renders the continuance of the marriage dangerous to health or life.
In a case that reached our Supreme Court, a 17 year old female was a member of the Roman Catholic faith. Her church prohibited her from marrying a divorced person. The 17 year old married a man who indicated in writing that he had never been married before. After the marriage, the woman found out that her husband had, indeed, been previously married. The church granted the female an annulment.
Following that, the Supreme Court approved a civil annulment saying: “The fraudulent misrepresentations for which a marriage may be annulled must be of something essential to the marriage relation of something making impossible the performance of the duties and obligations of that relation or rendering its assumption and continuance dangerous to health or life.” The court found that the facts in the case met this test and upheld the annulment.