English COMMON LAW did not provide for annulment. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the only courts in England with the power to annul an invalid marriage, when fairness mandated it, were the ecclesiastical courts. There was no statute that provided relief of this kind.
Northeastern American colonies passed laws enabling courts or legislatures to grant annulments, while other colonies adhered more closely to English traditions. The American tradition of keeping church and state separate precluded the establishment of ecclesiastical courts in the United States. Following the American Revolution, the civil courts in a majority of states never assumed that they had the authority to hear annulment cases.
A number of states eventually enacted laws authorizing annulment in recognition of the belief that it is unfair to require people to fulfill marital duties when a marriage is invalid.
Currently, most states have annulment statutes. In states that do not, courts declare that no marriage exists if the laws regulating marriage have not been observed.
An annulment declares that a marriage, which appears to be valid, is actually invalid. Two kinds of invalid marriages exist: void marriages and voidable marriages. A void marriage is one that was invalid from its very beginning and, therefore, could never lawfully exist in any way. The major grounds for a void marriage are INCEST, bigamy, and lack of consent. Once these grounds are established, the court will grant a decree of annulment.
A VOIDABLE marriage is one that can be declared illegal but that continues as valid until an annulment is sought. The annulment takes effect only from the time a court renders its decision.
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