Annulment in Tennessee
Annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void. Unlike divorce, annulment treats the marriage as if it never legally existed in the first place. An annulled marriage is erased from each spouse’s legal record.
Annulments are granted in Tennessee for specific lawful reasons laid out in state laws. A spouse seeking an annulment will need to prove one of these legal grounds to the court.
Legal Grounds for Annulment in Tennessee
Tennessee recognizes both void and voidable marriages. The laws outline particular grounds that make a marriage void or voidable in court.
A void marriage is automatically considered invalid with no legal force from the beginning. The most common grounds for a void marriage in Tennessee include:
- Bigamy – One spouse was still legally married to someone else when the second marriage occurred.
- Incest – The spouses are close blood relatives.
- Lack of mental capacity – One spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent to marriage due to mental incapacity or intoxication.
- Underage – One or both spouses were below the legal age of consent at the time of marriage. In Tennessee, you must be 18 years old to marry without parental consent.
Void marriages legally never existed and require no official court action to dissolve the union. Filing an annulment lawsuit on void marriage grounds is usually just a formality.
A voidable marriage is considered valid when entered into but can be made void later by court order if certain legal grounds are proven. Common voidable marriage grounds in Tennessee include:
- Fraud – Consent was obtained by fraud or misrepresentation about something essential to the marriage. This could include lying about the ability or intent to have children.
- Duress – A spouse’s consent was obtained under duress, force, or threats.
- Impotency – A spouse was physically incapable of consummating the marriage and the other spouse was unaware of the condition when consenting.
Unlike void marriages, voidable marriages are legal until annulled by a court order. The annulment petition must be filed within a certain timeframe after discovering the voidable ground – usually one to two years in Tennessee.
Residency Requirements for Annulment
To file for annulment in Tennessee, strict residency requirements must be met.
The spouse filing for annulment (the plaintiff) must be an actual resident of Tennessee at the time the annulment lawsuit is filed in court. Residency is defined as physically living in Tennessee for at least 6 months before filing.
Temporary absences for things like military service, education, business, or healthcare treatment do not count as changing residency. The 6-month period also must immediately precede the filing date.
Location of Marriage
It does not matter where the marriage took place. As long as the plaintiff meets Tennessee residency requirements, an annulment case can be filed in the state.
Filing for Annulment
The process for filing an annulment closely mirrors divorce in Tennessee. There are some unique requirements and forms involved specifically for annulment cases.
To start an annulment case in Tennessee, the plaintiff must properly fill out and file certain court papers. This includes:
- Complaint for Annulment – This main form outlines information about the marriage, states the legal annulment ground, and requests an annulment judgment.
- Civil Cover Sheet – Basic data about the case such as plaintiff’s name, defendant’s name, case type, court information, and attorney info goes on this administrative form.
- Certificate of Divorce, Annulment or Dissolution of Marriage – Vital details about the concluded marriage are reported on this Tennessee Office of Vital Records document.
- Parenting Plan – If the couple has minor children, this plan for legal and physical custody, visitation, and child support must be filed.
- Restraining Order – The plaintiff can request the court to order certain behavior restrictions on the defendant through a temporary restraining order.
Filing the Case
The plaintiff starts the annulment lawsuit by filing the completed initial paperwork with the circuit court clerk’s office in the county where they reside. Required filing fees must also be paid, unless the plaintiff qualifies for a fee waiver.
Once filed and stamped by the court clerk, the documents will be submitted to the judge. The plaintiff must then arrange to have the defendant legally served with copies of the filed papers.
Tennessee has adopted a no-fault process for annulment and divorce. This means spouses do not have to prove wrongdoing or blame on the part of the other spouse to get an annulment judgment. The court only needs to determine whether legal annulment grounds exist.
Contested vs. Uncontested
If the defendant agrees with the annulment and does not dispute any part of the plaintiff’s case, it is considered uncontested. Both spouses simply consent to the annulment.
However, the defendant can choose to contest part or all of the annulment case. This usually involves filing a response denying the stated annulment grounds and requesting a dismissal of the lawsuit. It can lead to a lengthy court process requiring evidence and witnesses to decide.
Many contested annulment cases end up settling before trial. The spouses and attorneys negotiate agreements on disputed issues like property division and spousal support until reaching a compromise both parties can accept.
Settled annulments can finalize more quickly than heavily contested cases decided through full litigation. However, settlement terms must still be approved by the judge to become binding.
Hearings and Trial
For contested annulments that do not settle, the court holds hearings and a full trial. Both spouses have opportunities to present arguments, witnesses, and evidence supporting their positions.
Common witnesses in annulment trials include family members aware of issues like bigamy or fraud before the marriage. Therapists may also testify regarding mental incapacity. Evidence could include marriage licenses from prior existing marriages or medical reports.
Ultimately the judge makes final decisions on all disputed matters based on the law and evidence presented. Their judgment granting or denying the requested annulment is legally binding.
Annulment Judgment Effects
If granted, the annulment judgment declares the marriage void “ab initio” – meaning invalid from the very start. It reverts everything back to the spouses’ single, pre-marriage status.
Any name change made upon marriage is automatically void. The spouses’ names revert back to their legal pre-marriage names. No specific court order is required for this unless issues arise.
Separate and marital property acquired during the invalidated marriage must be equitably divided by the court. This is a key issue for negotiation and trial in contested annulment cases.
Tennessee is an “equitable division” state. All marital property like houses, investments, and retirement funds are divided in a fair and just manner – not necessarily 50/50. Factors like economic fault and need are considered.
Temporary spousal support during the annulment process is possible. However, the court cannot order permanent alimony after an annulment like it can with divorce.
Child Custody and Support
If the annulled spouses have minor children together, the court will issue custody, visitation, and child support orders. These remain in effect going forward even though the marriage is voided.
Paternity may need to be legally established first for any children born during the invalidated marriage. Genetic testing can determine biological paternity if uncertain.
Any joint income tax returns filed during the voided marriage may need to be amended. Consult a tax professional to ensure proper post-annulment tax status.
Annulment provides a way to erase a marriage that should have never happened under Tennessee law. The process closely mirrors divorce litigation with unique requirements.
Void and voidable grounds must be proven, and intense disputes can arise over property division and spousal support. Settling before trial helps avoid excessive time and expenses.
In the end, a granted Tennessee annulment wipes the marriage off legal records – returning the spouses to their prior single status. However, any children produced remain subject to ongoing court-ordered custody, visitation and support.
What is the difference between annulment and divorce in Tennessee?
Divorce legally ends a valid marriage, while annulment establishes that the marriage was never legally valid under state laws to begin with. Divorce spouses were married; annulment spouses were never married.
How much does it cost to get an annulment in Tennessee?
Basic filing fees are around $150. Contested cases involving attorneys, discoveries, and trials can cost thousands. Overall, annulments tend to cost less than divorce.
How long does it take to get an annulment in Tennessee?
An uncontested case with cooperative spouses can finalize in 1-3 months. Contested annulments can take over a year with settlement negotiations and potential trial.
Can I get alimony after an annulment in Tennessee?
No, permanent alimony is only available after divorce. Temporary support during the annulment lawsuit is possible in some cases.
Does an annulment in Tennessee affect child custody?
No, child custody, visitation, and support orders remain fully valid and enforceable after a marriage is annulled. The status of the parents does not affect the children’s established rights.