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What Makes a Marriage Invalid?

Wedding photo torn in half
By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

The U.S. government takes the civil institution of marriage seriously and couples must meet established criteria before their marriage is considered legitimate by federal, state, and local governments. What factors, then, can make a marriage invalid?

It Depends.

A lot of marriage laws are decided on the state level, which means that the definition of a “valid" marriage depends largely on where the couple lives.

For example, in Colorado, a marriage may be annulled if one of the parties involved entered into the marriage as a “jest or dare."

Bearing that in mind, there are some common factors that may make a marriage invalid, regardless of the location in the U.S. Some of those factors include:

  • Incest - the union of siblings (and sometimes first cousins)
  • Fraud - providing false information or willfully deceiving other parties
  • Bigamy - two simultaneous marriages, e.g., a person marrying someone while they are still married to someone else
  • Coercion - forcing another person into a marriage against their will
  • Underage parties - marrying a person who is not a legal adult
  • Mental incompetence - marrying someone who is not legally able to make decisions due to their mental capacity

State Laws Are Key

Although federal law does cover some critical aspects of marriages, many of the specific rules and regulations around annulment are determined by individual states. What constitutes an annulment-worthy fraud may look different in Texas than Massachusetts, e.g., listing a false name or alias on a marriage application, unintentional bigamy, etc.

Because state laws are so varied, it is worth a couple's time to research their state's marriage laws.

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