Divorce vs. "Annulment"

Occasionally clients will call attorneys asking for an "annulment" rather than a divorce, particularly when the marriage is of short duration. Colorado law does not recognize the term "annulment," and it is very difficult to "undo" a marriage rather than going through the divorce process. Colorado does have a statute for obtaining a legal determination of the invalidity of the marriage. This statute, however, has very narrow grounds upon which a marriage can be determined to be invalid, the main categories are:

  • Where a party lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage;
  • Where a party lacked the physical ability to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse, and the other party did not know of the inability at the time of the marriage;
  • Where one party was under the legal age for marriage and did not have a parent or guardian's consent;
  • Where one party entered into the marriage in reliance upon a fraudulent act or representation that goes to the essence of the marriage;
  • Where one or both parties entered into the marriage under duress;
  • Where one or both parties entered into the marriage as a jest or dare;
  • Where the marriage was prohibited by law, including:
  • A marriage was entered into prior to the dissolution of an earlier marriage by one of the parties;
  • Marriages between close relatives;
  • A marriage which was void by the law of the place where the marriage was contracted.

Unless a marriage falls into one of these specific categories, the only way to end the marriage is through a divorce, rather than through a declaration of invalidity.

Anyone seeking a declaration of invalidity should also be aware that the Colorado statute also provides that when a marriage is declared invalid for one of the above grounds, the provisions of Colorado Law regarding the division of property and debt, maintenance, and parental responsibilities are still applicable. This means that one cannot seek a declaration of invalidity for the purpose of avoiding these consequences from a normal divorce proceeding. In the vast majority of circumstances, a dissolution of the marriage will be the best way to seek an end to the legal relationship between the parties.

If an individual believes that their situation fits into one of the narrow categories described above, and wants to seek a declaration of invalidity rather than a dissolution, they should consult with an experienced attorney to discuss the different repercussions of the various avenues of relief available to them.