Annulling a marriage is a legal process that dissolves a marriage and results in a declaration that the marriage never existed. This differs from a divorce, because a divorce simply terminates a marriage, whereas annulment invalidates it. Family law is a topic governed by state law and Arkansas has established requirements for couples to get married, as well as processes and requirements to end those marriages.
To obtain an annulment in Arkansas, a married couple must meet certain requirements. One of the spouses must demonstrate one of the following grounds, which show that one -- or both parties -- could not legally consent to the marriage. If these grounds cannot be demonstrated, the couple might not qualify for annulment and they will be forced to seek a divorce. Arkansas law states that if one -- or both spouses -- were under the legal age to marry or did not have the mental capacity to marry, then annulment is an option. These two grounds are classified as void marriages because they were not legal when the husband and wife married. The other grounds for annulment can be more nefarious, as they allow annulment for voidable marriages in which one or both parties were forced to marry, consent to marry was obtained through fraud or one of the parties does not have the physical capacity to be married -- such as with impotence, for example.
Although the majority of annulments in Arkansas will fall into one of the primary grounds, a few other grounds exist under which parties to a marriage can request an annulment. If either spouse has another spouse, thereby engaging in bigamy, the marriage is void. If it is discovered after the parties marry that the husband and wife are too closely related, the marriage is considered void in Arkansas. The law states that marriages between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, including half siblings, uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, as well as first cousins, are considered too closely related for a legal marriage under Arkansas law.
To obtain an annulment in Arkansas, you must be an Arkansas resident, since one party must have lived in Arkansas for at least 60 days before she requests an annulment. The annulment must be requested in the county where the requestor lives. The court has the discretion to grant or deny an annulment if there are children involved, by reviewing all the facts and circumstances related to the case, as cases of this type are very sensitive.
Alimony and Division of Property
Although an annulment is technically different than a divorce, the effect is that a couple will separate and must untangle their property ownership and commingled money and property -- similar to a divorce. Typically, alimony is not available after an annulment, since annulment is a legal declaration that the marriage never existed. However, in certain situations, courts may award temporary alimony while the couple separates property. Since the central theme of annulment is that the marriage never existed, the court's goal in dividing the property is to ensure that each party returns to their pre-marriage position. In cases where the couple has obtained property together, courts typically try to divide property equitably.
Divorce as an Alternative
If the husband and wife do not meet the legal requirements for an annulment, the parties must seek a divorce if they wish to terminate the marriage. If both spouses agree to the divorce, it will be considered an uncontested divorce. If both parties disagree, it will be a contested divorce.
Kay Lee began freelance writing for Answerbag and eHow in 2010. She is an attorney in Washington, DC, practicing since 2006. Lee specializes in employee benefits and executive compensation. She holds a Juris Doctor from the Columbus School of Law and a Master of Laws from Georgetown University Law Center.