States have their own laws regarding civil annulments and the various types of marriages that are prohibited. States, for example, prohibit marriages between closely related family members. In New York, laws related to prohibited marriages govern the grounds for seeking a civil annulment, the time limits for obtaining such an annulment, and the various scenarios in which a marriage would not be recognized as valid by the state. In a civil annulment, a court rules on whether a marriage is valid. If a court annuls a marriage, it effectively renders the marriage as it never existed.
A civil annulment will only be granted if a marriage was invalid in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, civil annulments are not available if the marriage has yet to be consummated, or if the marriage has only been in existence for a short period of time.
Grounds for Civil Annulments
New York law has very specific grounds for civil annulments. Those are an undissolved previous marriage, one spouse was underage at the time of marriage, one spouse is physically incapable of having sexual relations, consent to marriage by force, consent to marriage by fraud, or incapability of consent to marriage.
Time Limit for Obtaining an Annulment
There is no time limit for obtaining an annulment in New York. This is because the marriage is not valid, and no amount of time passed will ever validate the marriage. However, there are a few circumstances that validate a marriage and remove the option of a civil annulment.
If one spouse has a previous marriage, a civil annulment is always an option. If one spouse is underage at the time of marriage, the marriage may be civilly annulled only until the underage spouse is of legal age and cohabitates with the other spouse. If the marriage is invalid due to a mental illness, annulment is an option as long as the mental illness continues. The marriage is validated if the person with a mental illness freely cohabits with their spouse after they are restored to a sound mind.
If the grounds for the civil annulment are a physical incapacity to consummate the marriage, the civil annulment is only an option within five years of the marriage, as long as the incapacity was not known at the time of marriage. If the marriage is a result of force, duress, or fraud, New York marriage law defers to the timeline allowed to sue for those civil wrongdoings.
New York does not allow marriages between ancestors and descendants, siblings regardless of whether they are whole or half blood, or between the siblings of ancestors and descendants. While same-sex marriage was never specifically prohibited in New York, the legislative and litigation history of the issue is extensive. In 2011, a bill was passed in New York explicitly legalizing same-sex marriage. On the federal level, same-sex marriage was also legalized in 2015. In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Obergefell v. Hodges. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. The Court ruled that prohibitions on same-sex marriages are a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
Breakdown of Laws Related to Civil Annulments and Same-Sex Marriages
Below are some general highlights of these various laws, found in the New York Family Code. See Details on State Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws for more information.
- Under § 7, marriages are prohibited when one or both parties to the marriage is underage and the consent of the underage party's or parties' parents or guardian was not obtained. The age of consent is 18.
- Under the same law, marriages are prohibited when one or both parties is incapable of consenting to the marriage, one or both parties is incapable of entering into the marriage as a result of a physical problem, one or both of the parties enters into the marriage on fraudulent grounds or by force, or one or both of the parties has been mentally ill in an incurable way for a period of five years or more.
- Under § 6, bigamous marriages are prohibited. Bigamy is defined as marrying a person while already being legally married to another person.
- Under § 5, incestuous marriages are prohibited. Incestuous marriages are marriages between closely related family members.
|Time Limits for Obtaining Annulment
||Under DRL 140, the following are grounds for a civil annulment:
- Where there is an undissolved previous marriage, either party to the marriage may pursue a civil annulment at any time during the lifetime of either of the parties to the marriage,
- Where one or both of the parties is underage, either party may pursue a civil annulment until the legal age of consent has been reached and cohabitation has occurred,
- In cases of mental illness, either party may pursue a civil annulment at any point during the illness, unless the parties cohabit freely during and after the illness,
- In cases of a physical incapacity (impotence), either party may pursue a civil annulment within five years of the condition beginning, as long as the condition was not known at the time of the marriage,
- If either of the two parties were force or compelled to enter the marriage by duress or fraud, either party must pursue a civil annulment within the specified statute of limitations unless they voluntarily cohabit.
|Legitimacy of Children
||Under DRL § 24, the children of annulled or void marriages are considered legitimate.
|Grounds for Annulment
||For the grounds upon which a person may seek a civil annulment, please refer to the types of legally invalid or prohibited marriages listed above in "Prohibited Marriages."
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
New York Codes and Court of Appeals Decisions
For more information about laws and legal issues in New York, including those related to civil annulments and prohibited marriages, consider reviewing the following resources:
If you have additional questions about New York's annulment and prohibited marriage laws, click on the following links:
Learn More About New York Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws from a Lawyer
If you'd like to know more information about the possibility of an annulment or a divorce in New York, you should speak with an experienced divorce lawyer near you. An attorney will be able to answer questions that are specific to your case, and let you know if an annulment is a possibility for you or if you must go through the divorce process instead.