What if you suddenly found out your new spouse is already married, cannot conceive children or already has kids? While rare, legal experts say these fraudulent cases can be grounds for an annulment. 

Annulment cases are fairly uncommon across the city, St. Louis lawyers say—but when they do come up, they can be just as litigious as divorce cases. “We see a pretty steady stream of annulment cases, but the number of annulments is still way less than divorces,” says Kirk Stange of Stange Law Firm. While Missouri does not have a formal annulment statute that states grounds for annulment, it does offer a petition to declare the marriage invalid, explains James Carmody of Carmody MacDonald. “To get an annulment, you have to prove there is fraud,” Stange says. “In these cases, there’s a critical thing out there that a spouse wasn’t honest about.”

In order for a marriage to be void, Craig Kallen of Kallen Law Firm says there are several criteria:

• No authorized marriage officiant.

• No legal marriage license.

• Parties were not of marriageable age.

When it comes to these cases, the marriage never properly existed under the law, and that qualifies for an annulment, Kallen explains.

For a marriage to be voidable, there are many other criteria that can apply:

• One party is already married.

• One party lacks mental capacity at the time of the marriage.

• One party has perpetrated fraud.

The latter case, fraud, is where many annulment cases fall, according to local attorneys. “A party has to have concealed something or has somehow made a misrepresentation concerning themselves that is very critical and essential to the marriage,” Carmody explains. It’s not as simple as a soon-to-be spouse claiming he has millions of dollars, and after the marriage the wife finds out he actually is in debt, he continues. “It has to be something that existed at the time or immediately prior to the marriage, such as someone lying about sexual orientation.” Other common fraudulent cases have involved a spouse who failed to reveal she can’t have kids, or has an STD, Stange adds. While fraud is difficult to prove in court, medical records and marriage licenses are common documents used to convince the judge of the spouse’s unlawful conduct, Kallen notes.

Another factor that may cause a couple to seek an annulment is religious reasons. A spouse may seek to annul a marriage so that he or she can be remarried in the Catholic church. But local attorneys agree that these cases must be handled by the church. “This is unrelated to the formal legal declaration of an annulment. The court can’t speak to that,” Carmody says.

Though the annulment filing process is similar to a divorce, the outcome is different, Stange notes. With the granting of an annulment, the marriage never existed; while a divorce is the dissolution of a marriage. Additionally, annulment cases typically take less time—60 days to a year—than divorce cases, Kallen adds. While there is no definitive time limit to file for an annulment—they can be sought even after decades of marriage—the typical timeline is soon after the wedding date, Stange explains. “The longer the marriage, the harder it is to get an annulment. After 20 or 30 years of marriage, it’s hard to claim you didn’t know about the fraud all that time.”

The moral of the story, Kallen says, is to make sure you are aware of your partner’s history so that the need for an annulment can be avoided. “If you’re getting married, make sure you’re asking those important questions upfront.”

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