June 29th, 2021
By: Andy Scholz and Heather Rooney McBride
Annulment of marriage is a process defined by Missouri statute as the “declaration of invalidity of marriage.” RSMo § 452.300. An annulment essentially says that a valid marriage never existed. Even though these marriages are deemed invalid, Missouri considers children born within these marriages to be legitimate and provides them all the rights and privileges of such (i.e., adjudication of custody and expectation of parental support). RSMo § 474.080. Generally, to seek an annulment, the party must plead jurisdiction and the ground(s) for annulment and must request relief. For certain grounds, there are additional requirements the party must prove.
An annulment is distinct from a dissolution of marriage in that an annulment is based on events that occur prior to entering the purported marriage contract, while a dissolution of marriage is based on events that occur after entering into the marriage contract. Further, there are practical differences between obtaining an annulment and dissolving a marriage. For example, maintenance is not available for parties seeking an annulment. McGrath v. McGrath, 387 S.W.2d 239 (Mo. Ct. App. 1965). There are also some marriages in which annulment is the exclusive remedy because the marriages are presumptively void. These include marriages between close relatives, marriages where a party to the marriage is not yet of the required age to enter a marriage contract and did not obtain court approval prior to entering the marriage contract, and marriages in which a party lacks the mental capacity to enter into a marriage contract. See RSMo §§ 451.020, 451.090.
There are other grounds for seeking an annulment; for example, if one party to the marriage is still legally married. RSMo § 451.030. In this situation, the party seeking the annulment must demonstrate that the prior marriage was not validly dissolved. Carr v. Carr, 232 S.W.2d 488 (Mo. 1950). A party’s inability to exhibit physical assent to the marriage and a party’s impotence are also potential grounds for annulment. Guthery v. Ball, 228 S.W. 887 (Mo. 1921); Viermann v. Viermann, 213 S.W.2d 259 (Mo. Ct. App. 1948).
For each of these grounds for annulment, the party seeking an annulment must prove that the defect in the marriage’s validity exists and also that the defect existed at the time the parties entered into the purported marriage contract but was not discovered until after such time. For impotence, there is an additional requirement that the party seeking the annulment prove that the impotence is permanent and incurable. Annulments may also be granted on the basis of fraud or duress. RSMo § 451.010; Marre v. Marre, 168 S.W. 636 (Mo. Ct. App. 1914). A party seeking an annulment based on fraud must additionally demonstrate that the fraud is so essential as to create a bar to marriage. Charley v. Fant, 892 S.W.2d 811, 813 (Mo. Ct. App. 1995).
A party may defend a marriage against annulment in four main ways. First, laches—if a party seeking annulment has delayed bringing the action, then the defending party must show that the other party unreasonably delayed bringing the action and that the defending party was thereby prejudiced. Second, a party may defend a marriage contract based on unclean hands, which generally involves proving to the court that the party seeking annulment is also a wrongdoer. Third, a party may defend a marriage contract by showing that the other party had knowledge of the situation that purportedly made the marriage contract void prior to entering into the marriage contract. Finally, ratification—a party may defend a marriage contract by showing that the party seeking annulment learned of the defect making the marriage voidable after entering into the marriage contract but continued to abide by the marriage contract.
Seeking an annulment is often portrayed as a simple process, but there are specific requirements that must be met and multiple defenses that may be brought. An annulment has its time and place, but it is also important to recognize that declaring a marriage void has its own set of ramifications. If you would like to speak with an attorney about an annulment, divorce, or your options regarding any domestic matter, please contact Rooney McBride & Smith, LLC at 417-708-9681 for a free consultation.