What is an annulment in Colorado?
Many people assume that a Colorado annulment is simply an easy way to end a brief marriage. The reality is that a declaration of invalidity of marriage (the legal term for an "annulment" in Colorado) is a somewhat rare proceeding, and thanks to no-fault divorces, it is seldom easier than obtaining a divorce. And reading about celebrities annulling brief marriages in just a few days only fuels the misconception that any brief marriage can be ended by annulment.
From a practical perspective, there is no difference in outcome between an annulment and a dissolution in Colorado. The legal distinction is that in an annulment, the marriage effectively never happened, which may appeal to those who would rather avoid a divorce for religious reasons, or perhaps to reinstate benefits or payments lost when one party marries.
Legal Grounds for Annulment in Colorado
It’s harder to get an annulment in Colorado than a divorce, because simply proving that the marriage is broken is not sufficient. Instead, a spouse seeking a declaration of invalidity of marriage in Colorado must prove one of the specific legal grounds. Talk to a Colorado family law attorney who knows Colorado annulment laws to see if your case meets one of the following criteria outlined in C.R.S. 14-10-111(1):
a. A spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent at the time of the marriage (e.g. mental incapacity, drugs, or alcohol),
b. A spouse lacked the physical capacity to consummate the marriage (i.e. cannot have intercourse), and the other did not know this at the time of marriage,
c. A spouse was under the age to consent to marriage (18, or 16 with consent, for a marriage in Colorado) and did not have consent from parents, guardians, or a Colorado family law court to marry,
d. One spouse married in reliance on the other's fraudulent act or misrepresentation which went "to the essence of the marriage",
e. One or both spouses married under duress,
f. One or both spouses married as a jest or dare, or
g. The marriage was void due to: bigamy/polygamy, incest (ancestor & descendant, siblings, uncle/niece, or aunt/nephew), or any other reason under the laws of the place where the marriage was entered into.
Fraud Going “to the Essence of the Marriage”
There are very few reported cases on what constitutes sufficient grounds for an annulment, because the grounds are either black & white (e.g. whether a marriage was void), or the grounds were factual determinations for the trial court, and not overturned on appeal unless they were "clearly erroneous"). But there are a couple of cases that provide good examples of a fraud which goes to the “essence of the marriage.”
- Claim of Illness. A wife who remarried her ex-husband based upon his representation that he had a terminal illness and his death was imminent was granted an annulment. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the Wife’s assertion that she only married so her husband would not die alone did go to the essence of the marriage. In re: Marriage of Farr, 228 P.3d 267 (Colo. App. 2010).
- Marrying for Green Card. The trial court found that the wife had married the husband not because she loved him, but solely to enable her to move to the U.S. and establish residency. There, the husband was lonely and vulnerable, and the wife convinced him to marry her, kept separate finances, and left the husband as soon as her green card came through. In re: Marriage of Joel, 2012 COA 128.
- Marrying for Financial Gain. I’m reluctant to even mention this as a ground for annulment for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact that In re: Marriage of Blietz, 538 P.2d 114 (Colo. App. 1975) is an unpublished case, so cannot be cited as legal precedent. Moreover, the decision does not give us any facts to see how compelling the evidence was, so we can only speculate on how extreme the facts were. Because it is easy to claim “he only married me for my money”, but hard to prove in most cases, absent irrefutable proof of a financial motive, a brief marriage and some extreme facts, it’s questionable how viable this basis really is.