Annulment of Marriage in California

Annulments are rare, as they're hard to obtain. It's much easier to end your marriage via a traditional divorce proceeding. Sometimes, couples get divorced without ever setting foot in a courtroom, but that never happens with an annulment. 

Important facts about annulment in California

Here are some key points to know if you're considering an annulment in California:

  • Annulment is a declaration of nullity.
  • If you get an annulment, it's as if your marriage never happened. The court determines that your union is not legal and wipes it from your record.
  • After an annulment, you can check the box "single" on your tax forms and other legal documents. After a divorce, however, you must check the "divorced" box. 

An annulment can only be granted for certain reasons

To get a declaration of nullity, you must demonstrate why your marriage was never legal. The burden of proof lies with the couple.

Per California law, judges can only annul marriages for the following eight reasons:

  • Incest: Close blood relatives can’t be married. For example, if two siblings were married, that marriage could legally be annulled because it would be considered an incestuous relationship. 
  • Bigamy: One person can’t be married to two other people. For example, if a person got married only to learn that their spouse was already married to another, that marriage could be anulled.
  • Age: At the time of the marriage, both parties must be at least 18 (or have the judge’s permission to marry if they’re too young). For example, if two 15-year-olds got married, their marriage could be annulled because both were underage at the time of the wedding.
  • Fraud: Both people must enter the marriage willingly. If the union is based on a lie so big that the wedding wouldn’t have happened, it’s grounds for an annulment. For example, if a woman concealed a pregnancy and married a person who was not the father, and her deceit was later discovered, that would be grounds for annulment.
  • Unsound mind: If one person didn’t understand what was happening during the marriage ceremony, annulment is possible. For example, if one person consented to the marriage and recited their vows while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and they later realized the wedding was a mistake, they could ask to have their marriage annulled.
  • Lack of consummation: If one person is unable to have sex, and the problem can’t be fixed, this is grounds for annulment. For example, if a couple is married for a while and one spouse is unable to have sex, that would be grounds for annulment.
  • Spouse thought dead is not: If one of you was married to someone who was absent for five years and generally considered to be dead, you could ask for an annulment if they were found alive.
  • Force: One person can’t make the other get married. If one person was forced to marry against their will, they could later use that circumstance as grounds for annulment.

You must go to court

You must stand in a courtroom to get an annulment. As such, you could pay more for an annulment than a divorce due to lawyer fees, which can quickly add up.

Note: A judge could decline your request for an annulment if you don't meet all of the necessary requirements. You might decide to get a divorce instead in these circumstances.

The residency requirement is minimal for annulment

Before you can file for a divorce, you or your spouse must live in California for six months and in your filing county for three months. For an annulment, however, you just need to live in the California county where you file. It doesn't matter when you moved there. 

The court will not help you with a settlement agreement

Unlike divorce, in which the court will step in and help you create your divorce settlement agreement if you and your spouse cannot agree on one, the state of California does not provide settlement help for annulments. And, since your marriage is essentially “erased,” there is no possibility for spousal support/alimony.

Time constraints and legal requirements

You can ask for a divorce at any point in the marriage, but annulments are different. To get an annulment of marriage in California, you must file within a specified time frame that varies by the cause you cite.

Statute of limitations

Some voidable marriages, or those that a judge might deem aren’t legal, come with filing time limits. They include the following:

  • Age: You can ask for an annulment within four years of your 18th birthday.
  • Fraud: You must file within four years of finding out about the fraud.
  • Lack of consummation: You must file within four years of your wedding.
  • Force: You must file within four years of the wedding.

Some types of marriages are never legal in California. If your marriage involved incest or bigamy, you can file at any point. No time limits apply.

Voidable marriages, like those involving an unsound mind or marriages involving a spouse thought to be dead, also don’t have filing time limits.

Legal repercussions

California law permits a four-year period in which you can get a marriage annulled under the grounds mentioned above. But what happens if more than four years have passed? Are there legal repercussions? Are you stuck in the marriage?

No, you are not stuck. If you have exceeded the time limit for an annulment, you would need to end the marriage using a different method: divorce or legal separation.

The processes of California divorce and California legal separation are clearly outlined in the following Hello Divorce resources:

How to get an annulment in California

You can't handle an annulment case alone. You must stand in front of a judge to complete the annulment process. But there are steps you can take to get your case moving.

Step 1: Fill out the paperwork

Two forms, the Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100) and Summons (FL-110) forms, can start your case. These forms inform the court that you would like to nullify your marriage.

Note: Your local court may have additional forms. Your court clerk's office can help you understand what they are and how they work. 

Step 2: Make copies and file 

The court requires two copies of each form you fill out. Take them to the court clerk in your county to file them. There will be a filing fee of approximately $435 to $450. 

Step 3: Serve your spouse 

Someone older than 18 who is not connected to your case must legally serve your partner the following:

  • A copy of your forms
  • A blank Marriage/Domestic Partnership form (FL-120)

Your server must fill out a Proof of Service Summons form (FL-115) and give it to you. Take the original and a copy of this form to your court and file them. 

If you use a friend or family member as a server, your costs are minimal. However, if you hire someone to help, those fees can range anywhere from $20 to $300, depending on how hard it is to find your spouse.

Step 4: Wait 

Your spouse has 30 days to respond to your forms by filing their versions with the clerk at the courthouse you chose. Your spouse will also pay a $435 to $450 filing fee and costs associated with serving you.

Step 5: Negotiate

In a traditional divorce, partners discuss how to split their estate. They might outline who gets the family home, how spousal support payments will work, and how to divide retirement accounts. An annulment is different.

California courts can’t always divide property and debts in an annulment, as the marriage was never legal to begin with. Only one exception exists.

If you thought the marriage was legal when you entered it, you’re a putative spouse. You can negotiate with your partner about how to split your estate, and you can outline an arrangement to present to the judge.

If you share children, the judge can make orders about child support, visitation, and custody. You can negotiate with your spouse on those plans, too.

Step 6: Hearing

For an annulment of marriage in California, you must attend a hearing and discuss the issue with a judge. In this hearing, you could present the arrangements you negotiated with your spouse and ask for approval.

If you can’t agree on the details of your estate, you may need a lawyer to represent you in court. A California lawyer could charge hundreds for this service.

What if you don’t meet the criteria?

California’s rules regarding an annulment are strict. Sometimes, they’re so firm that people can’t meet them.

If you want an annulment in California but don’t meet any of the grounds, or too much time has passed to file, you must ask for a divorce instead. You can’t file for an annulment unless you have grounds and meet the time limits.

3 reasons to consider annulment instead of divorce

Religious traditions

Some organized religions, including the Catholic Church, frown upon divorce. A religious annulment could be a better option, as it doesn't interfere with these traditions. 

That said, it is possible that your community would also react negatively to an annulment. If this is the case, and especially if young children are involved, it’s a good idea to seek professional support for yourself and your children. This could include therapy or a support group.

Asset protection

An annulment doesn't require couples to split assets. An annulment could be a better choice if you were tricked or coerced into marriage and want to keep your assets protected. 

But what if you have assets to split after your annulment? Since your marriage has been nullified, each person should leave the relationship with the assets they brought to it. If items were purchased together, with shared funds, these items can be split in a 50/50 fashion similar to the community property principle of asset division in California.

If the two of you cannot agree on how to split your items, you may need to seek court intervention. This legal action would not fall under the category of divorce or annulment, but the court could further assist you if needed.

Block: Mediation may be a cheaper solution than going to court if the two of you cannot agree how to split your items after annulment. Read more about mediation here, or learn about Hello Divorce’s hourly mediation services here. 


An illegal marriage could leave you open to additional charges. If the marriage is annulled, however, it is no longer a marriage at all. 

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Frequently asked questions

These are questions we often hear about the annulment process in California:

What’s the difference between a void marriage and a voidable marriage?

A void marriage in California is one that would never be legal. Void marriages involve incest or bigamy.

Voidable marriages are those that aren’t valid due to issues like age, fraud, mental health, physical health, coercion, or alive former spouses who were thought to be dead. They can be annulled, but these marriages were likely legal when they started.

When can judges split assets in an annulment?

A judge can only split assets when one person is a putative spouse — someone who thought the marriage was legal. A person like this might be married to someone who lied about a prior marriage and filed for an annulment when the deception was discovered. In a case like this, a judge can divide assets and property.

What about shared children?

It is possible for an annulled marriage to have produced children. Although the marriage did not technically exist, the relationship did. In this case, the children are thought to have been born to single parents.

In a marriage that involved children where paternity has been clearly established, a judge can rule on child support, child custody, and visitation. If you are in this situation, it’s a good idea to get legal advice so you know what to expect going forward.

These cases are similar to those involving unmarried people. California courts can intervene and approve plans that are best for the children involved.

What are the consequences of an annulment?

An annulment of marriage in California is a ruling that your marriage was never legally valid. Essentially, you were never married. All the assets you acquired as a couple can’t be split by the courts, as there was no legal contract connecting both parties. You gain your freedom, but you might lose some protections in the process.



Annulment. (December 2020). American Bar Association.
Annulment . Judicial Branch of California.
Legal Reasons a Judge Can Annul a Marriage . Judicial Branch of California.
Start an Annulment Case . Judicial Branch of California. 
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.