Under Minnesota law, a marriage that does not meet certain criteria can be annulled. An annulment is different from a divorce.
In annulment, the parties seek a finding that the marriage should never have taken place. In divorce, however, there is an understanding that there was a valid marriage, which has been irretrievably broken.
Minnesota law differentiates between a void marriage and voidable marriage.
A void marriage is one in which the law states that the marriage should never have taken place, because the parties did not meet the requirements for obtaining a marriage license in the first place.
There are certain criteria that must be met for a marriage to be declared valid in the State of Minnesota.
The marriage must be between a man and woman (until next week, when same-sex marriage becomes legal in Minnesota).
If the parties are between 15 and 18 years of age, they must have parental consent for the marriage.
State-approved personnel must preside over the marriage ceremony, and the ceremony must include at least two witnesses above the age of 16.
If the other party was married earlier, then there must have been a dissolution of that marriage before the new one. In other words, if you marry someone when they are already married, or you are already married, your new marriage is legally non-existent.
If any of the above conditions are unsatisfied, then the marriage can be declared void as a matter of law.
However, if, after the marriage, one of the parties discovers that certain facts were withheld, or not disclosed to him or her, at the time of the marriage, then he or she can move to annul a voidable marriage. It’s their choice. The marriage is legally valid, unless a party seeks to avoid it.
Examples of circumstances in which a person may be eligible to declare the marriage voidable are impotence, intoxication by drugs or alcohol at the time of the marriage, and the presence of certain kinds of mental illness or deficiency at the time of marriage.
If you have questions about the nature of a void or voidable marriage, we can help. Our lawyers have assisted a number of litigants in having their marriage declared void as a matter of law. Although less common than in the era of fault-based divorce in Minnesota, the law does provide an alternative to marital dissolution. Call (763) 783-5146 to speak with one of our family law attorneys.