Am I Eligible for an Annulment in Tennessee?
When a couple seeks to end their marriage in Tennessee, the termination of the marriage is generally accomplished through divorce. The divorce process usually commences with one spouse filing for divorce in a Tennessee court of competent jurisdiction. Once the divorce litigation is initiated, it will progress in either an uncontested or contested fashion. In uncontested divorce cases, the divorce is finalized upon the court approving and incorporating a Marital Dissolution Agreement (and a Permanent Parenting Plan if there are minor children born of the marriage) into a final judgment of divorce. In contested divorce cases, the parties are unable to agree on a Marital Dissolution Agreement (and Permanent Parenting Plan if applicable), and the divorce is finalized by a trial judge upon the entry of a final judgment of divorce after a trial.
There is, however, a rare alternative to divorce: annulment. Annulment is only available if grounds for annulment existed at the time a couple married. In other words, there must have been a defect in the marriage from its inception that renders it subject to annulment, and the spouse seeking the annulment has the burden to prove that the defect existed at the time of the marriage. Simply put, grounds for annulment in Tennessee do not arise after a couple marries, although they may be grounds for divorce.
In Tennessee, marriages subject to annulment are either void or voidable.
A void marriage is one that can be annulled during the lifetimes of the couple, but may also be challenged after the death of either or both of the spouses. If a marriage is void, it is invalid from the moment of its inception – sometimes, this is referred to as being void ab initio. Even if a marriage is void, it is still generally useful to bring a formal annulment proceeding in a court of competent jurisdiction so the court can make clear the marital status of the parties and adjudicate any issues related to children or property. Marriages that are prohibited by law are void.
A voidable marriage, however, is a marriage that is valid unless and until it is annulled. Importantly, a voidable marriage can only be annulled during the lifetime of the parties. If one of the spouses in a voidable marriage dies, the marriage will no longer be able to be annulled, and it will thereafter be considered a valid marriage even though it may have been voidable before the death of one of the spouses.
Under Tennessee law, there are several grounds for annulment, and these grounds are further divided between void marriages and voidable marriages.
A marriage is void from the beginning under the following circumstances:
- when either party was already lawfully married (bigamy);
- when the parties are within prohibited degrees of kinship, closer than first cousins (incest);
- when, for any other reason, the marriage was prohibited by law, and its continuance is in violation of law.[i]
A marriage is voidable from the beginning under the following circumstances:
- when either party was insane;
- when the complaining party was under duress;
- when one of the parties was under the age of consent at the time of the marriage;
- when the consent to marry was obtained by force, fraud, or was given by mistake;
- when the defendant was impotent;[ii] [iii]
Although many couples may prefer for their marriage to end in annulment rather than divorce, in Tennessee the overwhelming majority of marriages end in divorce rather than annulment. This is partially because, although annulment is possible or even required under certain circumstances, the grounds for annulment are often narrowly construed, and most couples simply do not meet the necessary legal criteria to have their marriage annulled.
If you believe that your marriage is void or voidable and that annulment may apply to your marriage, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable Nashville divorce attorney as quickly as possible. Annulment plays an important role in domestic relations law in Tennessee, and even if annulment is found to not apply in your particular situation, it may lead you to analyze other factors that could be relevant to divorce. Contact Cole Law today at 615-490-6020 to schedule a consultation and learn more about whether annulment may be an option for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andy Goldstein
Andy Goldstein is an Associate Attorney at Cole Law Group. He is a graduate of Belmont University College of Law and is admitted to practice in Tennessee state courts, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the Immigration Courts of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Andy focuses his practice in the areas of Family Law, Defamation & Privacy, Probate, and Complex Civil Litigation. Cole Law Group clients benefit from Andy’s passion for the law and dedication to serving them well.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an experienced lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
[i] Coulter v. Hendricks, 918 S.W.2d 424, 426 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995) (quoting 2 Gibson’s Suits in Chancery § 1147 note 10 (5th ed. 1956)) (citations omitted).
[ii] For the ground of impotence to sustain an annulment under Tennessee law, one spouse must be physically unable to have intercourse, the impotence has to be permanent, and the impotence must have existed before the marriage.
[iii] Coulter v. Hendricks, 918 S.W.2d 424, 426 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995) (quoting 2 Gibson’s Suits in Chancery § 1147 note 10 (5th ed. 1956)) (citations omitted).