Last Updated on
A civil marriage may end legally through an annulment or a divorce. An annulment is a legal procedure that invalidates a marriage (from its beginning), while a divorce dissolves it.
According to the Pew Research Center, the divorce rate in the United States is “hovering” around 50%. By contrast, civil annulments are rare. Most people know someone who has been granted a divorce, but it is uncommon to know anyone – other than a celebrity – whose marriage has been civilly annulled. (Religious annulments are more common, particularly in the Catholic Church, but are processed differently, and are granted for different reasons.)
Civil annulments are rare because their eligibility requirements are so strict, and “no-fault” divorces are an uncomplicated option. The process is a front-ended one where a legal determination is made that a marriage is either “void” without doubt (essentially, it never happened) or “voidable.” If it is “voidable,” there must be a proven reason for its invalidity.
Laws about invalidity vary from state to state, but there is a general core of very serious determinants for it, including fraud/misrepresentation of self. Examples: a spouse not disclosing the true intention for a marriage (such as obtaining a green card); not revealing a criminal past – as in Virginia, entering a marriage as an “undisclosed felon”; and, not disclosing a sexually transmitted disease or impotence. Other determinants include: an unconsummated marriage; consanguinity – i.e., marriage between too-close relatives; bigamy or polygamy; marrying under force or duress (precipitated by blackmail or emotional and physical threats and behavior); lack of the capacity to consent (e.g., marriage to an underage spouse, or “child bride,” which, shockingly, is still a problem in the United States); a spouse of unsound mind (e.g., he or she was under the influence of alcohol or was mentally unstable upon marrying or had an incurable mental illness of long duration).
Qualifying for a civil annulment based on feeling pressure to marry depends on what exactly is meant by “pressure.” The pressure to marry someone has to be looked at through the lens of the “force” and “duress” cited in the law as outlined above. Pressure as grounds for a civil annulment has to be considered in terms of its severity and impact on a spouse’s ability to consent to a marriage freely. In a civil annulment procedure, the inability to decide for oneself in entering a marriage would be the litmus test.
The types of pressure that would make a person take pause but not affect his or her ability to make a sound decision to marry might include parental and family pressure, childbearing pressure, church culture/mores, and societal and partner expectations of when to marry. These are not reasons that would hold up under force and duress.
Because the burden of proof in nullifying a marriage may be great, and issues involving legal protections and other matters may arise, advice and the decision regarding how to proceed in leaving a marriage is left to a qualified attorney.