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


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.