Marriages end. The legal process of ending a valid marriage – whether the marriage lasted for 20 years, 20 months, or 20 days - is called divorce. Sometimes, however, marriages never existed in the first place. In other words, people can enter into a marriage that is invalid in the eyes of the law. The legal process of declaring such a marriage void in Colorado involves seeking a “declaration of invalidity of marriage,” otherwise known as an annulment.
Many people are under the mistaken impression that the difference between divorce and annulment is simply a matter of time. That is, if one spouse wakes up the morning after the wedding and screams to themselves “What have I done??,” they can run to the nearest courthouse and get an annulment. While there are in fact time limits as to when you seek an annulment, annulments will not be granted simply because of buyer’s remorse or a short marriage.
Limited Reasons for Annulments in Colorado
As opposed to divorce, which can and will be granted under almost every circumstance, there are very limited and specific bases for seeking a declaration of invalidity of marriage in Colorado. A Colorado judge can declare a marriage invalid only if one of the following circumstances can be proven:
- A party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage at the time the marriage was solemnized, either because of mental incapacity or infirmity or because of the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances.
- A party lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse, and the other party did not at the time the marriage was solemnized know of the incapacity.
- A party was under the age as provided by law and did not have the consent of his parents or guardian or judicial approval as provided by law.
- One party entered into the marriage in reliance upon a fraudulent act or representation of the other party, which fraudulent act or representation goes to the essence of the marriage.
- One or both parties entered into the marriage under duress exercised by the other party or a third party, whether or not such other party knew of such exercise of duress.
- One or both parties entered into the marriage as a jest or dare.
- The marriage is prohibited by law, including the following:
- A marriage entered into prior to the dissolution of an earlier marriage of one of the parties;
- A marriage between an ancestor and a descendant or between a brother and a sister, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood;
- A marriage between an uncle and a niece or between an aunt and a nephew, whether the relationship is by the half or the whole blood, except as to marriages permitted by the established customs of aboriginal cultures;
- A marriage which was void by the law of the place where such marriage was contracted.
Time Limits to Seek a Colorado Annulment
If you weren’t married in Colorado, you need to live here for at least 30 days before you can seek a declaration of invalidity from a Colorado judge. More importantly, you need to seek a declaration of invalidity within the time period specified by law or otherwise be barred from seeking an annulment. The time limitations depend on the basis for declaring the marriage invalid and are as follows:
- Six months from learning of the issue: lack of consent due to mental capacity or intoxication; fraud in inducing the marriage; duress; joke or dare.
- One year from learning of the condition: inability to have sexual relations
- 24 months from the date of the marriage: underage spouse lacking parental consent. In such a case, either spouse or the parent or guardian of the underage spouse can seek the declaration of invalidity.
- Any time before spouse’s death: illegal marriage due to bigamy or consanguinity (blood relationship).
If your marriage is in trouble and you are exploring the possibility of moving in a different direction, you should speak with an experienced Colorado divorce lawyer before making any decisions. A good divorce attorney can assess your situation, advise you of your options, and help you find the best path forward.