August 31st, 2022
When a marriage ends in Minnesota, most of the time it occurs through the divorce process. In some cases, however, a marriage may end through a process known as an annulment. Note that this refers to the process under Minnesota law for civil or legal annulment. Some religious institutions offer their own faith-based procedures that also go by the name “annulment.” Divorce and legal annulment have many similarities: They both terminate a marriage relationship, and they both may result in orders regarding property division, child custody, child support, and other matters. They may both use procedures like mediation or Collaborative law to resolve any issues in dispute. They also have many important differences. The following describes the various grounds for annulment under Minnesota law.
What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Annulment?
A divorce case terminates a legally valid marriage relationship. A person seeking a divorce in Minnesota need only demonstrate that an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship” has occurred, also known as a “no-fault divorce.” Divorce typically involves issues that have arisen since the spouses got married.
An annulment terminates a marriage that is invalid under Minnesota law. Minnesota law identifies various grounds for annulling a marriage. All of them are based on conditions that were present at the time of the marriage.
Because the grounds for annulment are based on conditions that existed when the parties got married, Minnesota law sets rather strict time limits on when someone may file a suit seeking an annulment instead of a divorce. These time limits are discussed in more detail below.
What Are the Grounds for Annulment?
Minnesota allows annulment of marriages that are considered “voidable” under state law. A voidable marriage is one that is not presumptively invalid, but which a court may rule to be invalid if one or both spouses request it. Certain types of marriages, however, are “void” under state law, meaning that they are invalid no matter what.
Minnesota family law states that certain marriages are void, even without an official decree from a judge.
A marriage is void if it began before the dissolution of a spouse’s prior marriage. Minnesota makes an exception when a person‘s spouse has been missing for at least four years, the person does not know whether or not they are alive, and the spouse is then declared legally dead.
Marriages between certain family members are void:
- Ancestors and descendants, such as a parent or grandparent and a child or grandchild
- An uncle or aunt and a nephew or niece
Underage Marriage - Both Spouses
A marriage is void if both spouses were under the age of 18 at the time. This does not apply if neither of them was a Minnesota resident and the marriage occurred in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage.
Developmentally Disabled Persons
If a developmentally disabled person is under the guardianship of the state, and the terms of the guardianship set limits on the person’s right to get married, a marriage is void unless the commissioner of human services has authorized it.
The following marriages are voidable under Minnesota law. A person must file a complaint seeking annulment within a certain period of time in order to obtain a legal annulment. If they do not do so by the applicable deadline, they will still be able to file for divorce.
Lack of Capacity to Consent
A marriage is voidable if, at the time the marriage occurred:
- One party could not consent to the marriage because of “mental incapacity or infirmity,” and the other party was unaware of this issue;
- One party could not consent “because of the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances”; or
- One party used “force or fraud” to obtain consent to the marriage, and the parties did not voluntarily cohabitate afterward.
A party to the marriage or their legal representative must file for an annulment within ninety days of the date they learned about the lack of capacity.
State law makes an exception in cases that involve a lack of mental capacity if the parties “freely cohabited together” after the incapacitated person’s “restoration to reason.”
Lack of Ability to Consummate
A marriage may be subject to annulment if:
- One party “lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse”; and
- The other party did not know about this at the time of the marriage.
The deadline to file for an annulment in this situation is within one year of the date that both parties became aware of this issue.
Underage Marriage - One Spouse
A marriage is voidable under Minnesota law if one spouse, but not both, was under the age of 18 at the time. The underaged person or their parent or guardian may seek an annulment at any time before the person turns 18.
Family attorney Louise Livesay has represented families in the Twin Cities area in family law disputes for over two decades. She guides her clients in resolving conflicts and transforming their relationships with the help of Minnesota’s family laws. If you have questions about divorce mediation, Collaborative law, or other family law matters, please contact us today online or at (651) 294-2338.