Unlike a divorce, an annulment declares that the marriage never existed, i.e., it erases the marriage bond as if it never occurred. So, while divorce proceedings look for a reason to end the union, an annulment proceeding looks for a reason to declare the marriage shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Because of this, grounds for an annulment focus more on the legal and moral capacity to marry than on the fault of one of the parties. And while the laws may vary from state to state, most will grant an annulment if one or more of the following circumstances exists:
Grounds that constitute a void marriage are elements that prevent the marriage from ever being legal, as in the case of close relatives marrying. Grounds that constitute a voidable marriage are those that assume the parties would not have married had the circumstances been different and an annulment will be granted if one of the parties makes the request. Grounds that fall into this category include fraud, infertility and marrying under the influence. It is important to note that voidable marriages can become “legal” and un-voidable if circumstances change.
For instance, if a couple marries and later discovers that one of the parties was impotent or sterile, the other spouse could petition for an annulment if it was proved that the first spouse knew of the sterility but failed to disclose this information.
However, if the impotence or sterility is discovered and the parties continue to live as a married couple, the marriage becomes legal and an annulment is no longer an option.
Some states also allow annulments in cases where the parties entered the marriage without the intention of staying married, as in a trial marriage. To know for sure if you have grounds for an annulment, you should consult the laws of your state.