July 13, 2000
GROUNDS FOR A LEGAL ANNULMENT
By: Lawrence K. Furbish, Director
You asked for a brief description of the grounds in Connecticut for a legal, as opposed to a religious, annulment of a marriage.
An annulment is different from a dissolution of marriage (divorce) in that the latter applies to a valid marriage relationship and is based on causes and problems that arise after the wedding ceremony, while the former is based on the theory that the marriage was void or voidable when it took place. An annulment decree, in effect, declares that the marriage never existed.
Unlike the Connecticut statutes that govern divorce, no single statute collects and itemizes the various grounds for an annulment. Some grounds exist in statute and others exist under common law. In addition, some grounds establish that the marriage was void at its inception while others establish a basis for one of the parties to go to court and ask that the marriage be declared void. Connecticut courts have generally preferred that latter type of ground unless a specific statute expressly declares the marriage to be void.
Examples of marriages that are void are bigamous or incestuous marriages. Examples of grounds that would make a marriage viodable are fraud, physical or mental incapacity, and force or duress.
The law on all questions concerning divorce and related family issues such as annulment is complicated. As you know, this office is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be considered to be one. We would strongly recommend that your constituent consult an attorney with experience in family law and, if possible one who has handled annulments. With the divorce law reforms that took place in 1973 the number of annulments dealt with by courts has declined, and it is now considered a rare procedure.
Most of the information in this report comes from Connecticut Practice, Vol. 7, Family Law and Practice, by Arnold Rutkin and Kathleen Hogan, West, 1999.
CONSANGUINITY OR AFFINITY
Consanguinity is the legal term courts use to refer to a marriage between parties who are too closely related. The law prohibits a man from marrying his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, niece, stepdaughter, or stepmother, and the same prohibitions apply to women regarding men with similar relationships (CGS § 46b-21). Thus any such marriage is considered void from the outset regardless of the intentions of the parties.
A bigamous marriage is one attempted by a party who has already married. It can involve a conscious attempt to commit bigamy, but it often occurs when a divorce decree for a prior marriage is invalid or not final. No statute expressly declares a bigamous marriage void, but the statues define a crime of bigamy (CGS § 53a-190). A bigamous marriage is void from the start, so the annulment judgment only serves as a record that the marriage is invalid.
No statute specifically declares a marriage involving a mentally retarded, mentally ill, or otherwise incompetent person invalid, but the statutes require that before a marriage license can be issued to anyone under the supervision and control of a conservator or guardian the written consent of that person must be obtained (CGS § 46b-29). Such a marriage may be voidable under general legal principles of equity although there are no reported cases based on this situation.
DEFECTS IN THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY OR LICENSE
The statutes impose some requirements regarding obtaining a marriage license and who can perform a marriage. If any of these requirements are not met, it may, in some cases, be grounds for an annulment. An example would be if the person performing the marriage ceremony were not qualified under Connecticut law to perform such ceremonies (CGS § 46b-22). However, care needs to be taken regarding this ground. The General Assembly periodically passes acts to validate all marriages that would be invalid except that the justice of the peace performing the marriage did not have a valid certificate of qualification (CGS § 46b-22a). Similar validating provisions are passed for marriages that take place in a different town than the one issuing the marriage license (CGS § 46b-24a).
FRAUD, FORCE, OR DURRESS
It is a general legal principle that formation of a binding contract requires the mutual assent of both parties, and a marriage is such a contractual relationship. Thus, for a valid marriage to be created, the parties must manifest the necessary intent to enter the relationship. In judging this courts will look at the incidents leading up to the marriage and surrounding the ceremony itself to determine the state of mind and intentions of the parties.
Consent of both parties is a necessary condition, and when only one party consents to the contract, there is no marriage. When the consent of one of the parties was obtained by fraud, the mutuality of consents required for a valid marriage does not exist. When the ground involves a fraudulent contract, the distinction between an annulment and dissolution becomes blurred, because one of the grounds for dissolution is a “fraudulent contract” (CGS § 46b-40).
Contracts obtained by force, duress, or coercion can be set aside by the courts so it seems likely that marriages obtained under the same circumstances can also. But no reported cases describe an annulment based on these grounds.
CONCEALMENT OR MISREPRESENTATION OF FACTS OR CIRCUMSTANCES
Misrepresentation of a person's health or physical condition is sometimes raised as grounds for an annulment. But the courts have held that such misrepresentation is only a ground if it relates to matters essential to the marriage union.
Examples would be conditions that make it impossible for a party to perform the duties or obligations of a spouse or make it dangerous to the health of the other spouse or offspring. The courts have not viewed chastity prior to the marriage as a necessary prerequisite for a valid marriage. Nor have they allowed an annulment when the wife was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage or when a party misrepresented his or her willingness to have children or to adopt the religion of the other spouse.