What's an Annulment?

What's an Annulment?

What's an Annulment?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 25 2000 6:42 PM

What's an Annulment?

Darva Conger, the woman who married Rick Rockwell on the Fox network's Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire? said this week she may try to have the marriage annulled. What is an annulment, and how do you get one?

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Under civil law, an annulment is a declaration by a judge that two people were never legally married. A divorce, on the other hand, decrees that the union did exist but has ended. (The Catholic Church sometimes issues annulments, but these are not recognized by the state.) The details vary from state to state, but generally, either party to the marriage can request an annulment, and the judge will consider granting it in one of two circumstances.

First, an annulment may be granted if someone, not necessarily a party to the marriage, proves that one of the marriage partners lacked either the legal capacity (say, if the bride is a minor, or the betrothed are brother and sister) or the mental capacity (if the groom is mentally incompetent) to get married. Second, one of the parties can also try to prove that he or she was duped. A woman could discover something about her partner--say, that he is impotent--and claim that she never would have consented to marriage had she known about it. Misstatements about one's net worth could provide justification in some states.

Conger may have a case under the second scenario. She can raise questions about Rockwell's net worth, challenging his claim to be a multimillionaire, or present the recently surfaced temporary restraining order issued against him as evidence of a possibly abusive past.

On the other hand, since the show was based on the premise that a man and woman would marry minutes after they met, a claim of having unwittingly married a stranger might be met with some skepticism. And Rockwell could decide to contest any annulment; he could challenge the prenuptial agreement--in which they both apparently agreed not to contest any annulment--by arguing that it undercuts the sacred bonds of marriage.

Note to Conger: Either party can sue for a no-fault divorce in Nevada.

(For more on the legality of Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, see this previous Explainer.)

Explainer thanks Charles Shainberg of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; Jonathan Wiggins of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; and Gary Silverman, a family law attorney in Reno.