Most couples who get married and later choose to end the marriage will follow the legal steps for a divorce. Occasionally, however, a marriage is either void from its inception or contains a legal flaw that allows either spouse or a third party to commence an action to annul the marriage. The difference between a divorce and an annulment is straightforward: a marriage that is terminated by an order for annulment never existed in the eyes of the law. A marriage that is ended by divorce is a marriage whose legal existence was ended by judicial decree.
Virginia statutes provide several grounds for annulling a marriage. If either of the parties are under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage, the marriage may be ended by a decree of annulment. Prohibited marriages may also be annulled. These marriages include marriages entered into prior to the dissolution of a previous marriage, a marriage between an ancestor and descendant or between a brother and sister or between an uncle and a niece or an aunt and nephew. If either of the parties lacked capacity to consent, either because of age or mental infirmity, the marriage may be ended by annulment.
Some marriages can be annulled if one party withheld a material fact from the other party at the time of the marriage. Such facts include natural and incurable impotency of either party, conviction of a felony, pregnancy of the wife by another man without the knowledge of the husband or when the husband fathered a child with another woman within ten months after the marriage was solemnized.
Nonetheless, a decree of annulment cannot be granted to a party who had knowledge of the material facts that were alleged to have been concealed at the time of the marriage. As readers can see, each case turns on the facts of the case.