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Jim Hawkins: Can annulment unring wedding bells?

Jim Hawkins • Sep 20, 2018 at 7:31 PM

“Like it never happened…like we never were.” — Lyric line from “Like It Never Happened,” sung by country music star Billy Currington, who also sang the 2009 No. 1 hit that featured the lyrics, “God is great, beer is good – and people are crazy.” 

Tennessee law allows marriages to end by divorce or annulment. Annulments are rare, as courts are strictly limited in their power to grant an annulment.

Q. What is annulment?

Annulment is a judicial procedure for declaring a marriage to be null and void from its beginning, on a retroactive basis. 

NOTE: “Changing your mind” is not grounds for annulment.

Tennessee law permits annulment only when a marriage is either void or voidable. 

Q. When is a marriage legally void?

A void marriage is treated as if it never occurred.  

A marriage is legally void:

•  when either party was already lawfully married such as bigamy. 

• when the parties are within prohibited degrees of kinship. 

• when the marriage was otherwise prohibited by law.

NOTE: Marriage between first cousins is legal in Tennessee, per TCA 36-3-101.

Q. When is a marriage legally voidable?

A voidable marriage is treated as if it had occurred, but should not have. 

A voidable marriage is valid unless and until a court declares it to be invalid, based on one of several grounds, including:

• insanity.

• marriage under threat, or duress.

• either party under the age of consent.

• consent obtained by force, or given by mistake.

• fraud, for example, when a woman falsely claims that a man is her child’s father.

• impotence.

• the woman was pregnant by another man without the complainant’s knowledge. 

• refusal to ever live together or to have marital relations.

• when, for any other reason, the marriage was not binding on the complainant.

Q. What happens to children when a marriage is annulled?

Just like divorce, a court can order child support to be paid to the parent with custody of any child or children born to the couple. Also, the children do not become illegitimate.

Jim Hawkins is a general-practice and public-interest law attorney in Gallatin. This column represents legal information and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. Call 615-452-9200 to suggest future column topics.


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