Grounds for Annulment: Underage
Marriage is an essential basis of social organization and is considered as the foundation of important legal rights and obligations. Annulment is a legal declaration that a marriage is invalid and that it never existed. Annulments are rare and are granted only in very specific circumstances, such as a party’s not meeting minimum age requirement for marriage.
In the United States, all but one state require that a person must attain the age of 18 years in order to marry without parental permission. Nebraska sets that age at 19. Some states allow marriage below the minimum age, with court approval, in cases of pregnancy or the birth of an illegitimate child. Although a marriage of underage parties might be void, it can be validated by parental consent in some states.
A marriage with an underage person generally is void if the defect exists at the inception of the marriage. Courts may annul the marriage if either party is below the legal age to marry. In states where the minimum age for marriage is 18 years, an action for annulment must be brought before the underage spouse reaches his or her 18th birthday. A marriage involving an underage party may become ineligible for annulment if the parties’ voluntary cohabitation continues after the underage person attains the age of consent.
Jurisdiction to Annul Underage Marriages
Some states grant courts jurisdiction to annul marriages where one of the parties was a minor at the time of marriage. This rule has been applied by some courts when the residents of one state move to another state to marry and then return to their original state. In other states, the court of the parties’ original state cannot annul the marriage if it was permitted under the state law where the ceremony was performed.
Being underage does not guarantee a right to annul; annulment is in the court’s discretion. An underage marriage is voidable if it is performed with the consent of the parents and remains in force until dissolved by the court.