When parties in Northern California are considering a divorce, sometimes they question whether they can get an "annulment". Under very specific and limited circumstances, parties can request a California court to declare their marriage null and void.
For the court to grant a judgment of nullity the must determine that the marriage was either void or voidable. Under the Family Code, a marriage is void from the beginning when the marriage involves either incest or when a marriage is entered into while either party is married to another person. In the later situation, the marriage is usually bigamous and void from the beginning.
A party who mistakenly believes their spouse to be deceased can have a marriage deemed void if for 5 successive years immediately preceding the marriage, the party's spouse had been absent and not known to the party to be living or at the time the marriage was entered into, the party's spouse was generally reputed or believed by the party to be dead.
Under the Family Code, when a marriage is void, it is void from the beginning, technically meaning that no marriage has occurred. However, this does not mean that a party should not obtain a judgment of nullity, because depending on the circumstances, a party may want a public record of their marital status. Furthermore, in specific circumstances, a party to a void marriage may be entitled to assert property and support rights as though the marriage had been valid and the parties may also address issues of custody, visitation, and child support in a nullity action.
On the other hand, a voidable marriage is valid until it is declared void and judicially declared a nullity. A marriage is voidable when a spouse was a minor and lacked the ability of consent; a spouse had an unsound mind at the time of marriage; consent was gained through fraud or force; or a spouse is physically incapable of entering into the marriage.
In situations of minority, a marriage is voidable if, at the time of the marriage, the petitioner was under age 18 and the requisite parental and court consents were not obtained. Nullity based on unsound mind occurs when either party is incapable of understanding the nature of the marriage contract and the duties and responsibilities it creates at the time of the marriage ceremony. Seeking an annulment on the basis of fraud will require the court to determine that the consent to enter into the marriage was obtained by false representations relating to a matter of substance that go to the very essence of the marital relation.