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Rhode Island Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

Adults are mostly free to marry whomever they choose, including same-sex couples in all states. However, not all marital unions are considered legitimate.

Each state has laws governing which marriages are legal, which are prohibited, eligibility for civil annulments, and other legal aspects of matrimony. The types of marriages often prohibited by state laws include those entered under duress, unions between close relatives, and marriages in which one party is still married to another person.

Civil annulment is different than divorce in that it has the legal effect of "erasing" the marriage. After a civil annulment, it is as if the marriage never existed. You may seek a civil annulment if the marriage should not have been granted in the first place. However, you need to seek a divorce if the marriage doesn't work out, while the marriage was still legally valid in the first place.

Rhode Island has permitted domestic partnerships since 2002. It has also recognized the marriages of same-sex couples from other states. In 2011, a bill created civil unions for same-sex couples. In 2013, another bill legalized same-sex marriage within the state. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges held that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. It also held that refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

Civil Annulments and Prohibited Marriages in Rhode Island

While Rhode Island law does not explicitly address civil annulments, courts will invalidate marriages under certain circumstances. These include incest (partners who are closer in relation than first cousins), bigamy (unresolved earlier marriage), mental incompetence, and refusal to consummate the marriage. This requires the parties to go through the divorce process, even though the marriage will be invalidated with the same effect as a civil annulment.

The following chart lists additional details on Rhode Island laws regarding civil annulments and prohibited marriages. See FindLaw's Marriage Law section to learn more.

Prohibited Marriages
  • Under § 11-6-1, bigamous marriages are prohibited.
  • Under § 15-1-5, marriages between people that are mentally incompetent are prohibited. Another part of § 15-1-5 also prohibits bigamous marriages, as well.
  • Under § 15-1-2, incestuous marriages are prohibited, while there is an exception for people less or as closely related as first cousins. Under the same statute, special exceptions are allowed for Jewish marriages permitted by Jewish religious law.
  • Under § 15-5-1, marriages that are entered into by force, fraud, or when either of the parties is unable to consent due to age or as a result of some disability are prohibited.
Grounds for Annulment Please refer to "Prohibited Marriages" for the types of marriages that are prohibited by law. As they are prohibited by law, they are considered legally invalid. If a marriage matches the descriptions in "Prohibited Marriages," it qualifies for dissolution in a divorce or civil annulment proceeding.
Time Limits for Obtaining Annulment No law in Rhode Island explicitly address a time limit for civil annulments.
Legitimacy of Children Under common law and public policy, children that are born to legally invalid marriages or marriages that have been civilly annulled are considered legitimate.

Note: State laws are subject to change at any time through the enactment of newly signed legislation or other means, including decisions from higher courts. You should contact a Rhode Island family law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Research the Law

Consider reviewing the following resources for more information about laws in Rhode Island, including those related to divorce, civil annulments, and prohibited marriages:

  • At Rhode Island Law, you'll find links to all laws in the state, including those related to divorce, civil annulments, and prohibited marriages.
  • At Official State Codes, you'll find links to the official online statutes (laws) in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Civil Annulments and Prohibited Marriages: Related Resources

Consider reviewing the following resources for more information about laws and legal issues related to divorce, civil annulments, and prohibited marriages:

Need More Help? Contact an Attorney

If you're considering a civil annulment, a divorce, or in a marriage that is prohibited by law, consider speaking with a qualified family law attorney near you. They can help you with all legal issues you may face as you are considering separating from your spouse, either by civil annulment or divorce.

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