The annulment scenario which typically comes to mind is the drunken, spur-of-the-moment, Las Vegas wedding. But there are a few ways in which a Minnesota marriage might be invalid and can be annulled.
The “absent spouse” doctrine is rarely used, and therefore, although it is Minnesota law, it’s difficult to understand exactly how it applies. It appears that if a person’s spouse is absent for four or more years, then the person can be remarried to another, and the new marriage is only void if the absent spouse is found alive and the new marriage is annulled. If the absent spouse is never located, then the new marriage is “voidable,” meaning it can be made void in the future, but it is valid until that time. This might apply in the most extreme of circumstances; for example: if a person’s spouse is marooned on a desert island or AWOL during a war.
Lack of Consent
Because marriage is akin to a “civil contract” the two people who marry must enter the marriage consensually. To have the ability to lawfully consent to marriage, the would-be-spouses must be at least 18 years old. The age requirement was changed from 16 to 18 in 2020. If a person is at least 16 years old, then the marriage is “voidable.” It can be annulled as if it never existed. But if the spouses later consent after reaching the age of 18, or cohabitate after the age of 18, then the marriage becomes valid. If the spouses are under the age of 16, the marriage is “void,” and cannot later be validated.
Another aspect of consent is competence. A person must have the ability to understand the meanings, rights and obligations of marriage. A person under a guardianship can still marry, unless it can be shown that the person lacks the above-mentioned understanding. Developmentally disabled persons can marry, unless 1) the person is under the guardianship of the Commissioner of Human Services, and 2) the guardianship limits the person’s right to marry (unless consent is obtained from the Commissioner).
Finally, there is the “Las Vegas” situation, in which a person lacks consent because he/she was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances to the degree that the person didn’t understand, or couldn’t properly demonstrate, assent to the marital union. If a person lacks the ability to consent, then the marriage is “voidable,” meaning it can be rendered void by an annulment, but is valid until such time.
Failure To Observe Formalities
There are certain formalities that must be fulfilled for a marriage to be valid in Minnesota. The couple must obtain a marriage license. To do so, the couple must submit an application which a court clerk must examine before issuance. A license is only valid for six months, and the parties must pay the application fee (which can be obtained on a reduced-fee basis under some circumstances).
The marriage must be “solemnized” by a licensed and ordained minister, a judge, a clerk of court, a court commissioner, or even certain school administrators. The marriage ceremony must take place in the presence of two witnesses. There are certain exceptions to the solemnization requirement for religious reasons (including Quakers, Hindus, Muslims, and others). There is no specific form for the solemnization except that the parties must declare that they take each other as husband, wife, or spouse. If the marriage isn’t properly solemnized (say, the officiant isn’t properly authorized) it is still valid as long as one or both parties believed in good faith that the officiant was authorized.
After the marriage is solemnized, the officiant is required to prepare three certificates (which are signed by the witnesses), and one must be filed with the clerk of the district court for the county in which the license was issued, and this must be done within five days. If this isn’t done, the marriage is still valid, as long as the rest of the solemnization was proper and the other requirements are met.
A “common law marriage,” which is when two parties hold themselves out as married but did not participate in a valid solemnization ceremony, is null and void in Minnesota, unless it was entered into prior to 1941, or occurred in a state which recognizes common law marriages (in which case, Minnesota will then recognize the marriage as valid).
Prior Existing Marriage/Bigamy
If one of the parties is already married, even if he/she is in the process of divorce but the divorce hasn’t been finalized, then the new marriage is “void,” meaning it cannot be made valid. The new marriage doesn’t have to be annulled because it simply never existed. The same is true of “bigamous” marriages, in which a person knowingly attempts to marry multiple people at the same time; the marriages are void.
Marriage To A Family Member
A marriage is void if the would-be-spouses are brothers/sisters, parent/child, grandparent/child, adoptive parent/adopted child, uncle or aunt/niece or nephew, or if there is any other familial relationship of “half or whole blood.” These participants have a void marriage but they can still pursue legal proceedings to divide property or obtain custody and parenting time rights if they separate.
If, under one of the above-stated circumstances, a marriage is “voidable,” instead of “void,” then the person can obtain an “annulment” to render the marriage invalid as if it had not occurred. The person doesn’t have to annul the marriage if he/she desires to keep it; but the marriage won’t be invalid unless annulment occurs. An annulment is obtained by filing a petition with the court, and in some cases, the petition must be filed by certain deadlines (for example, 90 days for mental incapacity; one year for underaged marriages, etc.). If the marriage is not annulled by the required deadline, then the marriage is valid and annulment can no longer be obtained.
If you have questions regarding this topic, like whether your marriage is valid, void, or voidable and can be annulled, then seek the advice of a family law attorney. Contact the SW&L Family Law Team at 701-297-2890 or email us via our contact form.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only. Do not rely on the information on this website as legal advice.