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North Carolina Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

Though it may seem simple, the legal proceedings surrounding marriage actually have strict rules. Each state has its own set of annulment and prohibited marriage laws that prohibit marriage in certain circumstances. A prohibited marriage is void because the marriage was never lawful in the first place. Generally, there's no need to get an annulment or divorce in these cases. Commonly prohibited marriages typically include bigamous marriages, where a person tries to marry more than one spouse, or incestuous marriages, where a person tries to marry a relative.

An annulment, on the other hand, is a way to void a marriage that would be otherwise invalid. While both an annulment and a divorce end a marriage, an annulment wipes the slate clean as if there had been no marriage to begin with. You usually need to get an annulment within a certain amount of time, so it is important to know the laws and act promptly if you are considering annulling your marriage.

This article provides a brief overview of annulment and prohibited marriages in the state of North Carolina.

North Carolina Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

The following chart highlights the main provisions of North Carolina's annulment and prohibited marriage laws, while a closer look at the law follows. See FindLaw's Marriage Law Overview section for additional articles and resources.

Grounds for Annulment

When a license to marry is procured by a person under the age of 18 by fraud or misrepresentation, a parent of the underage party, a person, agency, or institution having legal custody or serving as a guardian of the underage party, or a guardian ad litem appointed to represent the underage party is a proper party to bring an action to annul the marriage (N.C.G.S. § 51-2(c))

Time Limits for Obtaining Annulment

  • No marriage followed by cohabitation and the birth of issue shall be declared void after the death of either of the parties for any of the causes stated except bigamy (N.C.G.S. § 51-3)
  • No marriage by persons either of whom may be under age 16, and otherwise competent to marry, shall be declared void when the female is pregnant, or when a child shall have been both to the parties unless such child at the time of the action to annul is dead; a marriage contracted under the belief that the female is pregnant, followed by the separation of the parties within 45 days of the marriage which separation has been continuous for a period of one year, shall be voidable unless a child was born to the parties within 10 lunar months of the date of separation (N.C.G.S. § 51-3)

Legitimacy of Children

A child born of voidable marriage is legitimate notwithstanding the annulment of the marriage (N.C.G.S. § 50-11.1)

Prohibited Marriages

  • All marriages between any two persons nearer of kin than first cousins, or between double first cousins, or between any minors under the age of 16, or between persons either of whom has a spouse living at the time of the marriage, or between persons either of whom is at the time physically impotent, or between persons either of whom is at the time incapable of contracting from want of will or understand, shall be void (N.C.G.S. § 51-3)
  • Any marriage contracted between kinship nearer in blood than first cousins is void; half-blood and whole-blood are treated the same under this law (N.C.G.S. § 51-4)

Same-Sex Marriages

  • The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) established that bans on same-sex marriages in any state violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. With this ruling, same-sex marriages were legalized.
  • On December 13, 2022, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed into law the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified laws related to protections for same-sex marriage.

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.

Related Resources: Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

Deciding to end a marriage (or wondering whether or not your marriage was legal to begin with) is never a simple choice. For more information and resources regarding this topic, you can visit FindLaw's sections on AnnulmentDivorce, and North Carolina Family Law.

Next Steps: Speak to a Family Law Attorney

If you are considering annulling your marriage or have questions regarding its legitimacy, you should speak to a local family law attorney. An experienced attorney can view the specific facts of your case and give you legal advice using the relevant laws of your state.

Get started by receiving a consultation from a North Carolina divorce attorney today.

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