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The Difficulty of Succeeding in an Annulment Claim in Florida

Divorce is by far the most common way couples get out of their marriages. Strictly speaking, however, it is not the only way: as in other states across the country, Florida law recognizes that couples—in the most unique of circumstances—can annul their marriages. Annulments are unique because they do not serve to end marriages on the date of the court's decree. They reach back to the alleged creation of those marriages, treating them as if they were never entered into in the first instance.

Religious incentives aside, there are a number of practical reasons why one spouse or another might prefer annulment to divorce, including implications for rights under a will or intestacy, insurance policies, and the like.

Annulments and Void Marriages

Though Florida statutes make mention of annulments, there is no statutory framework (as in divorce) that describes exactly when an annulment may be sought or granted. Instead, courts follow the common law—a phrase that generally means historical judge-made law, refined and adjusted by courts on a case-by-case basis.

By way of example, one well-known path to annulment is by showing that a marriage was, in fact, bigamous or incestuous. Florida policy (and this is generally the case nationwide) so abhors such marriages that they are considered void from the start: the parties to the second or incestuous marriage were never married. However, though void marriages are conceptually not and never were actual marriages, as one recent case emphasizes, a lack of proof can be troublesome to the party seeking an annulment.

In Cobo v . Sierralta, the District Court of Appeal for Florida's Third District was faced with an allegedly void marriage. One party sought an annulment—which, in the case of void marriages, functions technically as just a judicial announcement of the lack of a marriage. He alleged that the "marriage" to his "wife" was void for bigamy. She had previously been married, years before these proceedings and in a foreign country. And she could not offer any evidence that the first marriage had been terminated before the second marriage began.

However, wrote the court, although the wife could not show that her first marriage had ended, it did not mean that her second marriage was bigamous and thus void. The court held that it was not the responsibility of the party defending the validity of the marriage to prove that validity. Rather, it was and is the responsibility of the party attacking the validity of a marriage (here, the second marriage) to prove invalidity.

Waiving the Ability to Invalidate Voidable Marriages

Unlike bigamy, incest, and (currently, at least, in Florida) same-sex marriages, there are other types of marriages that are void able and not void. This means that while there may be reason to annul, the marriage can be validated by some late action. Most commonly, this applies in the case of fraudulent marriages.

If one party misrepresents some important fact (which is difficult to show in court) and that misrepresentation induces another party to marry, the marriage may have been fraudulently induced. But because these marriages are void able, the spouse that later seeks an annulment is often barred from doing so, as generally, consummated marriages cannot be annulled for fraud.

Contact a South Florida Family Lawyer

If you are seeking an annulment, divorce, or have questions on any other family law-related matter, please reach out to our professionals at Miami-based Hager, Schwartz & Ross, P.A. today.

Categories: Annulment, Divorce, Family Law