Can our marriage be annulled if it was never consummated?
In New York, an annulment cannot be obtained due to a lack of consummation. Traditionally, a married couple will enforce their marriage by consummating it after the wedding. Historically speaking, if a couple failed to consummate the marriage, it would not be considered legally binding. In some other states, failure to consummate is still legal grounds for an annulment. New York isn’t one of them.
An annulment is one of two ways to end a marriage. The other way is divorce. With an annulment, the marriage is dissolved by the court like it was never real. Annulments are a way to void a marriage that was legally valid. The marriage is then viewed as something that never existed. If you marry another person after an annulment, that union will be considered your first marriage.
Annulment in New York is divided into two circumstantial categories: voidable marriages and void categories.
If a person enters into a void marriage, this means the union wasn’t legal in New York. By state law, the marriage is already void. Courts cannot uphold a union that doesn’t abide by the law. There are several types of marriages that are automatically void:
- Incestuous marriages
- Marriages broken by the return of a presumed-deceased spouse
- Marriages that were not solemnized by an individual who can perform marriages
Incestuous marriages occur when the spouses are related. Familial relationships covered by this include full siblings and half siblings, aunts and nephews, and uncles and nieces.
There are some rare situations in which a person may assume their spouse is dead. This can happen if their spouse has gone missing after a military engagement or natural disaster. They may remarry another individual. If their spouse comes back and is actually alive, the second marriage is immediately void because the first marriage was never actually ended.
For a marriage to be considered legally binding, it must be solemnized by someone holding that power. New York DRL 11 outlines a list of the individuals authorized to perform marriages. Marriages performed by non-authorized individuals will not be recognized by the state.
While a void marriage is a marriage that was never legal, a voidable marriage is a legally valid marriage. Both parties must have been legally permitted to form a marital union.
Voidable marriages can be terminated if one party pursues an annulment. However, unlike void marriages, they aren’t automatically voided by the state. The marriage will remain valid and legally binding if neither party pursues an annulment.
If you want to have your marriage annulled, you must meet one of several specific circumstances. Different states have different legal grounds for annulment. In New York, valid grounds for annulment are:
- Incurable mental illnesses
- Inability to consent
- Underage parties
- Fraud, duress, or force
An incurable mental illness will not always be grounds for annulment. However, if a mental illness or impairment causes one spouse to be unable to understand the marriage contract, they cannot legally consent. This can be cited as grounds for annulment. In addition, if a person has a substance use disorder or chronic mental illness, and they did not disclose it to their spouse prior to the marriage, there may be grounds for an annulment.
If you, your spouse, or both of you were below the age of 18 when the marriage occurred, this is often grounds for annulment. New York law does not allow people under 15 years of age to be married. Marriages can occur for 15 to 17 year olds if they have their parent’s permission. However, New York’s age of consent is 18. Marrying below the age of consent gives you grounds for an annulment.
Marriages are legally binding contracts. Like all legally binding contracts, the people who sign them must freely consent. If there is force or duress involved, the forced partner did not consent of their own free will. This is grounds to annul the marriage.
Similarly, fraud violates the legally binding contract of marriage. If the marriage was entered under false pretenses, the deceived spouse cannot be held to the terms of the contract. The marriage can be dissolved.
While simply not consummating the marriage doesn’t make it voidable, a complete inability to consummate does. There must be proof that the spouse has an incurable medical condition. For an annulment due to lack of consummation, one spouse must have an incurable condition.