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In New York, marriage can be officially ended in two ways: annulment or divorce. Divorce is the termination of a valid marriage. However, annulment acts like a “cancellation” of an existing marriage. With an annulment, a marriage is declared to have never been valid to begin with. Legally speaking, an annulment makes it as though you were never married.

The Rarity of Annulments

Annulments are far rarer than divorces. This is because annulments need to meet a set of highly specific and rare circumstances. Basically, you need to prove that the original marriage union was never valid for some reason. If you can’t prove the marriage was invalid, you’ll need to get a divorce to end the marriage. Another option in New York is legal separation. Legal separation has many of the same negotiations as divorce, but you remain married. With a divorce, you can remarry; with a legal separation, you can’t.

These are some of the circumstances in which an annulment can be obtained:

  • One or both of the spouses was underage at the time of the marriage, and therefore unable to consent
  • One or both of the spouses was mentally incapacitated or incapable of understanding the marriage, and therefore unable to consent
  • One of the spouses was under duress, and therefore their consent was compromised
  • One spouse was misled or lied to prior to the marriage, making the marriage contract invalid
  • The relationship was incestuous, and therefore forbidden by law
  • One spouse was still legally married to another person

All of these circumstances have one thing in common. They involve a marriage contract that was never validated due to compromised consent, inaccurate information, or unlawful behavior. The state cannot recognize a marriage contract that does not apply by its own laws. Because of this, the marriage is treated as though it did not exist.

Another thing to note is that in all of these circumstances, the marriage could have been invalidated at the time it happened. The fact that it was not is a mistake on the part of the court system.

If you don’t meet any of these circumstances, you cannot get an annulment in the state of New York. You will have to either separate legally or divorce.

What If the Marriage Isn’t Consummated?

Historically speaking, a couple is supposed to consummate their marriage on their wedding night to make the marriage “official.” There have been historical cases in which a marriage was annulled because it was never consummated. However, lack of consummation is not a valid grounds for annulment in the state of New York.

There is one possible exception to this rule. If one of the spouses has a condition that renders them permanently impotent, and they did not tell their spouse about it prior to the marriage, there may be grounds for annulment. In these cases, there is a case that fraud was involved in the lack of disclosure.

However, if you want this to work as grounds for annulment, you need to prove the following things:

  • The spouse is impotent
  • The spouse’s condition is permanent
  • The spouse knew about the condition prior to the marriage
  • The spouse did not tell you about the condition prior to the marriage

If you can’t sufficiently prove every aspect of this situation, you won’t have properly established a fraud case.

Religious Annulment

Religious and legal annulment are two different procedures. If you get your marriage legally annulled, this means that you have never been married in the eyes of the court. However, depending on your religious affiliation, you may still be married in the eyes of your church.

Similarly, if you have your marriage annulled by your church, you’re still legally married. You need to obtain a legal annulment, separation, or divorce before your marriage will legally dissolve.

Legal Separation

If you want an annulment because you cannot divorce due to religious reasons, you might want to consider a legal separation. In a legal separation, you remain married to your spouse. This is also a good option if you have hopes of reconciliation.

Like a divorce, though, you’ll divide all your marital assets, make child custody arrangements, and negotiate varying support payments. A legal separation involves almost all the same details as a divorce, but it doesn’t legally end your marriage. You can be legally separated in New York for up to 2 years.

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