Many people describe the end of a marriage by stating “They’re getting a divorce,” or “They’re divorcing.” It’s true that divorce is the legal process by which a couple ends their marital union and addresses their shared legal duties and responsibilities. However, some couples seek to have their marriage annulled rather than get a divorce.

While a divorce ends a legally valid marriage as of the date of entry of a judgment of dissolution of marriage, an annulment cancels the union by declaring that it was never valid at all. After an annulment, the law views the marriage as never having occurred. The court can grant an annulment in a limited circumstances.


Fraud in a marriage occurs where one spouse misrepresents something that would have affected the other spouse’s decision to marry. This can include lying about one’s sexual orientation, being below the age of consent at the time of the marriage, or lying about one’s ability to have children.


If one party somehow uses force or otherwise coerces the other party to enter into the marriage, the union may be annulled based on duress. Examples of duress include the use of bribery, threats of bodily harm, or actual physical force.


To annul a marriage based on concealment, one party must have hidden something serious from the other. A substance abuse addiction, children from a previous relationship, impotency, a sexually transmitted disease, or a felony conviction all might qualify as sufficiently serious to be the basis for an annulment.

Mental Incapacity

A marriage can be anulled voided if one party lacked the mental capacity to enter into the marriage when it occurred due to insanity, intoxication, or other reasons. A lack of mental capacity indicates that the person was incapable of understanding the marriage contract. There is, howervewr a lower threshold of mental capacity necessary to enter into marriage than for other legal acts.

Refusal or Inability to Consummate a Marriage

If a spouse is unable to consummate a marriage and concealed this from the other, the marriage may be voidable. However, it is not necessarily voidable if one spouse simply refuses to consummate the marriage for personal reasons.

Void Marriages v. Voidable Marriages

Some marriages are prohibited by law, and are thus considered automatically void from the beginning. For example, Missouri law prohibits marriage between first cousins. If first cousins attempt to marry in Missouri, the marriage is automatically considered void.

If a marriage is not specifically prohibited by law, it is presumed valid until proved otherwise. If a party asserts and shows any of the grounds for annulment, such as fraud or duress, the marriage can be found voidable. The defect in a voidable marriage can be cured, however. If a party lied about being over the age of consent, his or her parents may consent to the union and cure the defect.