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Is your new husband impotent? Were you blind drunk when you said your “I Do’s” in Vegas? Are you a 14-year-old blushing bride? Or did you marry a multimillionaire on national television? Maybe you’re looking for an annulment. But maybe you’re out of luck. “Annulment” is a word frequently bandied about in our ordinary lexicon. You hear about it in soap operas. It was featured in this season’s episodes of the TV show “Friends.” It’s talked about in church. And most notoriously, it was part of the ugly aftermath of the “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” TV show fiasco. The word’s ubiquity leads many people to think that the annulment of a marriage is commonplace or an easy way out of a marriage. Every family law practitioner has undoubtedly met with a prospective client seeking a quick end to a marriage. Often he’ll speak in terms of how long he’s been married, as if there were a grace period after the wedding during which he could make an exchange. Or he may reveal that his 10-month-old marriage has yet to be consummated, as if sex were the only component to marriage. A ground for annulment that meets all the requirements is rarely presented. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, the regretful couple will have to file for divorce, a time- and cost-consuming process. Annulment, unlike divorce, renders the parties back to their pre-marriage state, as if there had never been a marriage, which some consider more socially acceptable than divorce. (Annulment refers to a marriage that is voidable; it is different from a void marriage, which is one that public policy absolutely prohibits, such as marriage between a brother and sister.) So, it is understandable why people think that annulment is the first and best option. In reality, it isn’t a viable one. The starting point for any annulment in Texas is Family Code ��6.101 through 6.111. The code lists eight possible grounds for annulment, each with its own set of standards and requisites. Though they did receive an annulment in Nevada, let’s use the ill-fated case of Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell, the “Multimillionaire” bride and groom, to examine the Texas statute. The first ground is that one of the parties is younger than 14 years old (�6.101), and the second ground is that one of the parties is between 14 years old and 18 years old, and the marriage occurred without parental consent or court order (�6.102). Obviously these grounds wouldn’t have helped Conger and Rockwell. Both grounds allow for someone other than one of the parties to the marriage, such as a parent or guardian, to petition for the marriage’s end. Under �6.101, a petition for annulment can be filed any time before the youngster turns 14. Once the minor turns 14, however, the individual petitioning for annulment must file the petition within 90 days of the marriage or within 90 days of the date when the petitioner knows or should have known about the marriage, whichever is later. A parent, next friend or guardian wishing to get an annulment under �6.102 has to do so within 90 days of the wedding. VEGAS VOWS The third ground for annulment is when the petitioning party was under the influence of drugs or alcohol (�6.105), which negated that person’s capacity to consent to marriage. As far as we know, this wouldn’t have applied to Conger and Rockwell either, but it’s popular with the got-married-on-a-whim-in-Vegas crowd. The catch to this section is that it has, as the comments to Sampson & Tindall’s Texas Family Code Annotated say, “only a short �window of opportunity.’ ” An annulment can only be granted if the parties, once they sober up, do not voluntarily live with each other. Impotency is the fourth ground for annulment (�6.106). Again, as far as we know, this wasn’t at issue between Conger and Rockwell. There are three rather stringent requirements to this section: 1. the person was permanently impotent, either for physical or mental reasons, at the time of the marriage; 2. the party seeking annulment didn’t know about the impotency at the time of the marriage; and 3. the party seeking annulment has not voluntarily co-habitated with the other since he or she found out about the impotency. When the statute says “impotency,” according to the comments in Sampson & Tindall’s, “[f]rigidity and infertility are not covered by this section.” Section 6.108 applies when one of the parties is mentally incompetent. As with the 18-year-old and younger spouses, a third party can petition for annulment on behalf of the incompetent party. A court can grant an annulment if the party’s mental condition prevented the individual from giving consent to marry if the other party knew or reasonably should have known of the impairment, and if the couple hasn’t lived together since the incompetency was revealed. Though one could argue that mental impairment is the only explanation for why Conger and Rockwell each married a total stranger on live TV, this section is concerned with true incompetency, not lapses in judgment. WORST KEPT SECRETS A sixth ground for annulment is when one party has concealed the fact that he or she was divorced from someone else less than 30 days before the marriage (�6.109). In a case under an older version of the statute, Galbraith v. Galbraith, 619 S.W.2d 238 (Tex. App. � Texarkana 1981), the court ruled that the 30-day period runs from the time the court pronounces the divorce, not from the date when the divorce order is entered, if different. This “heartbalm” ground also requires that the petitioner didn’t know or couldn’t have reasonably known of the divorce and that he or she hasn’t voluntarily co-habitated since finding out. This option isn’t available at all after the couple’s first anniversary, even if the other elements are met. Another time-sensitive ground is �6.110, which applies when the parties get married which to use this ground, however. Neither Conger nor Rockwell said anything after their within 72 hours of getting the marriage license. The parties only have 30 days within marriage about a wedding license waiting period or a divorce less than 30 days before the media event. Section 6.107 is probably the “Multimillionaire” couple’s best bet, though it would still be an uphill battle. It applies to marriages brought on by fraud, duress or force. Like other sections, this one requires that the parties not live together after the fraud is learned of. Described in the comments as “probably the most common ground used for an annulment,” Conger could argue under Texas law that she would not have entered into the marriage had she known of Rick’s prior relationship woes. Or, Rockwell might have argued that he would not have married Conger had he known that her military service wasn’t all it was allegedly represented to be. Though an annulment puts the parties back to a position as if the marriage never happened, the parties may still have to divide property, just as if they were divorcing. For instance, a couple may have lived together for years before one learned of the other’s fraud. The two would have accumulated property as husband and wife during this time, and the same principles of community property division would be considered by the court. The legal grounds and effect of the Texas annulment statute should not be confused with a religious annulment. The two have absolutely no bearing on each other. In the Catholic church, an annulment is used when a divorced person wants to remarry in the church. According to a pamphlet published by the Tribunal of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond (Va.), “a marriage which does not reflect [the] basic designs of God is called in Catholic Church law a marriage which is �invalid’ or �null.’ “ An annulment might be based on infidelity, physical or psychological incapacity (including substance abuse) or a refusal to have children. The process can take as long as 18 months and requires extensive review of the marriage’s history and examination of the parties to the marriage, as well as their friends, family and counselors. Annulment, whether legal or religious is not the easy fix so much of society thinks it is, regardless of whether it makes good TV. Conger and Rockwell’s circumstances were nothing short of extraordinary, but for most other unhappily wed couples, divorce is likely the solution. Taking your time and learning as much as possible about your potential spouse before you get married is an even better answer.

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