A marriage that is not legally recognized by California courts is considered an invalid marriage. Here’s everything you need to know about what makes a marriage license invalid in California.

An invalid marriage is void, meaning that it is not registered in California courts and holds no weight in the eyes of law, and it can be annulled in a California court procedure. A marriage can be declared voidable by either of the spouses, and certain qualifications must be met in order for it to be considered invalid. Whether or not a marriage is valid, invalid, or voidable can greatly affect the process of filing for divorce or legal separation, especially as it pertains to property division.

How to End an Invalid Marriage

If a marriage or partnership is found to be legally invalid in the state of California, that is grounds for annulment. An annulment is different from a legal separation or divorce in that it wipes a person’s record clean: to the state of California, the marriage never happened. As such, establishing child custody and visitation rights as well as dividing community property are not parts of the annulment process, because many of the obligations of a legal marriage no longer exist.

Related: How to Get an Annulment in California

An incestuous marriage or a polyamorous marriage (one in which either spouse is legally married to multiple people) would automatically be considered invalid in California. Other grounds for annulment include but are not limited to:

  • The person filing for annulment was a minor child (under the age of 18) at the time of marriage
  • If fraudulent means were used to deceive the other party into marriage, such as marrying in order to qualify for permanent residency, or intentionally concealing one’s inability to conceive children
  • If either spouse was forced to enter the marriage
  • If either party was of “unsound mind” at the time of marriage, which California law defines as being unable to fully understand the obligations of the marriage or domestic partnership. Only the party who is not of “unsound mind”, or a relative or legal conservator for the party who is of “unsound mind” can file for annulment in this case.
  • If either party is physically incapacitated in such a way that prevents the spouses from having sexual relations. This will only be grounds for annulment if the non-incapacitated spouse files for annulment.

In an annulment case, spouses have to prove that one of the above reasons is true. There are also deadlines (statute of limitations) for when one can file for annulment. It is important to note that the statute of limitations may vary depending on the situation. For example, in attempting to prove that a spouse was a minor at the time of marriage, that spouse cannot file for annulment past four years of reaching the age of 18. However, the parents or legal guardians of the minor can file for annulment while the spouse is still a minor. That four years statute of limitations also applies to marriages that were entered into by fraud, force, or for those who wish to claim physical incapacity. In the case of fraud, only the person who was misled can file for annulment, and in the case of force, only the person who was forced to consent to the marriage can file.

Putative Spouse Status

An exception to the rule regarding property and debt division in annulment is the “putative” spouse status. If spouses can legally prove that they had “good faith belief” that their marriage (or domestic partnership) was valid in the state of California, then they may be able to file for annulment with a “putative” spouse status. This means that the spouses still have rights to community property, alimony, and other obligations related to divorce or legal separation. It is difficult to prove, which is why hiring an experienced family lawyer is highly recommended.

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