State laws regulate the institution of marriage, which includes annulment and certain restrictions on who may get married. Annulment is the legal process of invalidating a marriage, a different process than divorce, which may be sought in North Carolina if there's a previously undissolved marriage or for other reasons. North Carolina law also bans bigamy and marriage between double first cousins, but allows same-sex marriage (as in all other states, in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling).
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.
||50-11.1; 51-1.2, 2, 3
|Grounds for Annulment
||Underage; previously undissolved marriage; impotent; lack of consent due to lack of will or understanding; belief that female is pregnant
|Time Limits for Obtaining Annulment
||Marriage will not be declared void if girl is pregnant or if cohabitation after 16
|Legitimacy of Children
||Children born of voidable or bigamous marriage are legitimate
||Bigamy; between double first cousins or nearer in kin than first cousin
Contrary to popular belief, an annulment is not available just because the marriage was done in jest, or because only a short time has passed since the ceremony. As well, not having consummated the marriage is not a legal ground for annulment either. Annulment is only an option when the marriage was invalid in the first place.
Grounds for Annulment
North Carolina marriage law only allows for annulments in a few specific circumstances. Those circumstances are:
- One spouse is underage
- At least one spouse is still married to someone else
- Lack of consent to marriage
- Mistaken belief of pregnancy
North Carolina does not allow minors to marry without parental consent. If a minor does marry without parental consent, the marriage can be annulled. However, the marriage is not void if the wife is pregnant, or lives with the other spouse after age sixteen.
Having multiple contemporaneous marriages in North Carolina is not allowed. It is very uncommon for someone to intentionally be married to two people at once. More common is the situation in which someone gets married before their previous marriage is completely dissolved.
North Carolina allows a couple to annul a marriage if one partner is unable to engage in sexual relations. Generally, the impotency must be unknown to the other partner before the marriage.
Lack of Consent to Marry
If a marriage is the result of force, duress, or fraud, North Carolina gives the coerced spouse the opportunity to invalidate the marriage. However, continuing the marriage in light of force, duress, or fraud may make annulment difficult.
Mistaken Belief of Pregnancy
If either spouse entered the marriage based on the mistaken belief that the wife was pregnant with her spouse's child, the marriage is voidable.
North Carolina doesn't allow people to marry who are currently married, and also prohibits marriage between family members. Double first cousins may not marry. Double first cousins are so called because the siblings of one family marry the siblings of another family, e.g. two brothers marry two sisters. Also those who are more closely related than first cousins may not marry.
North Carolina made many attempts to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. A statute and a state constitutional amendment were both passed whose definitions and terms were constructed to ensure that marriage would not be available to same-sex couples and eliminating the possibility of alternative partnership forms as well as denying recognition to any purported legal status. A District Court decision in 2014 found the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples to be unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges came to the same conslusion in 2015.
If you would like to know more about the possibility of an annulment, there are many attorneys throughout North Carolina with family law experience who may be able to help. In addition to letting you know whether you qualify for an annulment, they may be able to help you through the divorce process if that is your only option.