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Terminating a Marriage Like the Stars

April 6, 2012

With celebrity marriages getting shorter and shorter, especially with the news that Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries were calling it quits after only 72 days of wedded bliss, clients often ask whether their “short” marriage can be annulled.

Even though it may seem as though a short marriage is the key to obtaining an annulment, since Britney Spears and her high school buddy obtained an annulment from their marriage after only a few hours, length really has nothing to do with it. In fact, annulments are quite difficult to obtain.

By definition, an annulment is a matrimonial action to declare a marriage as null or void. Some marriages are void at their inception; others are “voidable” and must be voided by a court judgment.

Marriages that are void at their inception are incestuous marriages, which is defined as one between an ancestor and a descendant, between half and whole siblings, and those between aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews. A marriage is also void at inception if one of the parties is still legally married to a living person.

Further a marriage is not valid unless it is properly solemnized by a clergyman or minister, certain public officers, a judge, or through written contract, acknowledged before a judge.

A voidable marriage is a marriage that starts off as a legal marriage, but becomes void from the time of the “nullity” and must be declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction. A court may declare a marriage void when one of the parties is under the age of age 18. However, this in itself does not constitute an absolute right to obtain an annulment, but is only one factor that the court may consider when determining whether or not to grant an annulment. Further the ability to obtain an annulment based on this ground terminates at the age of 18. A marriage may also be declared void when a person is incapable of understanding the significance of marriage due to mental inability at the time of the marriage, or has an incurable mental illness for a period of five years or more at any point during the marriage. Additionally, a marriage may be declared void when one of the parties is incapable of having sexual relations if the condition is incurable. This must be pled within the first 5 years of the marriage. Sterility alone does not meet this requirement. Further, when plead by the person incapable of sexual relations, that person must prove that it was unknown to them at the time of the marriage.

Finally, a court may declare a marriage void if it is found that consent to the marriage was obtained by force, duress or fraud. Kris is seeking an annulment from Kim based on the ground of fraud. Kris has alleged that Kim convinced him she loved him, which is why he agreed to marry her, when in fact she only wanted to get married for the publicity. However, because declarations or confessions by either party are not alone sufficient, each must show other evidence of the facts to establish the fraud. When fraud is plead, the party alleging the fraud must show that it would have deceived an ordinary prudent person and that consent was given due to this fraud. With this requirement, it seems unlikely that Kris will obtain an annulment, as an ordinary prudent person would have known that the marriage was a publicity stunt.