The difference between a divorce and an annulment in Texas family law lies in the validity of the marriage. A divorce, puts a legal end to a valid marriage. An annulment, legally invalidates a marriage. It treats the marriage as if it never existed, but the petitioner (the person bringing the suit), must be able to prove the facts surrounding the marriage meet very specific statutory grounds.
Herein lies another difference between an annulment vs. a divorce in Texas family law; in a divorce, the parties may plead “no fault” and therefore do not have to prove the grounds of their divorce. This just means if you want an annulment, be prepared to go in front of the Judge with facts demonstrating you meet the statutory requirements.
How Will I Know If I Qualify for an Annulment?
In Texas, an annulment can only be granted if the following statutory grounds are met:
If the marriage of a person 16 years or older but under 18 occurred without parental consent or court order, the court may grant an annulment. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.102. Unless a court order has been obtained, any marriage to a person under 16 will be declared void by the courts. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.205.
If the petitioner was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and therefore did not have the capacity to consent to marriage, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the parties did not voluntarily cohabitate (live together) after sobering up. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.105. If you moved in together, and tried to make it work, you DO NOT meet the statutory grounds required to grant an annulment.
If at the time of the marriage, either party was permanently impotent, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the petitioner did not know of the impotency at the time of the marriage AND did not voluntarily cohabitate since learning of the impotency. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.106.
- Fraud, Duress, or Force
If fraud, duress, or force was used to induce the petitioner into marriage, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the petitioner did not voluntarily cohabitate with the other party since learning of the fraud or since being released from the duress or force. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.107.
- Mental Incapacity
The requirements for an annulment granted on the basis of mental incapacity depend on who is bringing the suit. If the petitioner is the person with the incapacity (or their representative), then the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF at the time of the marriage they did not have had the mental capacity to consent to the marriage or to understand the nature of the ceremony because of mental disease or defect AND they did not voluntarily cohabitate with the other party during a period when they possessed the capacity to recognize the marriage relationship.
If the petitioner is the party without the mental incapacity, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the petitioner did not know of the mental disease or defect at the time of the marriage AND has not voluntarily cohabitated with the other party since the date they discovered (or reasonably should have discovered) the mental disease or defect. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.108.
- Concealed Divorce
If at the time of the marriage, the petitioner did not know that the other party was divorced from a third party within the 30 days prior to the ceremony, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the petitioner did not voluntarily cohabitate with the other party since learning of the fact of divorce. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.109.
- Marriage Less Than 72 Hours After Issuance of License
If the marriage ceremony took place within the 72 hours following issuance of the marriage license, the court may grant an annulment ONLY IF the annulment is sought within the 30 days following the ceremony. This is an important distinction between an annulment vs. a divorce in Texas. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.110.
If the parties are related too closely by blood, as close as or closer than cousins, the marriage will be declared void by the court. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.201.
- Preexisting Marriage
If either party is married at the time of the marriage ceremony, the later marriage will be declared void by the courts. However, if after the earlier marriage is dissolved, the parties continue to live together AND represent to others that they are married, the marriage can become valid. See Tex. Fam. Code §6.202.
These are the general grounds that will support an annulment in Texas. Anyone seeking more information about an annulment vs. a divorce in Texas should consider seeking the advice of an experienced family law attorney to see whether their individual circumstances meet the criteria, and what the benefits of seeking such an option might be.