South Carolina law allows you to annul a marriage in certain circumstances rather than seeking a divorce. We’ll explain the differences between the two and the grounds you’ll need to file for annulment.
Read on to learn what you’ll need to know to seek an annulment in South Carolina.
What Is an Annulment?
Jump Ahead To
While a divorce dissolves an existing, valid marriage, an annulment declares a marriage null and void from its beginning. In other words, even if two people have lived together as a married couple, an annulment means that a marriage never existed in the eyes of the law.
A party may seek an annulment to avoid performing marital obligations or the legal requirements associated with divorce. Annulment is vital for two main reasons:
- It provides legal proof that the marriage was invalid.
- It gives the court and the couple a chance to handle important matters such as child custody, child support and property distribution.
What Are the Grounds for Annulment in South Carolina?
Although annulment proceedings are less common than divorce, the South Carolina courts will grant the order if you can establish legal grounds. Each of the grounds for annulment of marriage in South Carolina has a requirement you need to establish it. Let’s look at them more closely:
The first of South Carolina’s grounds for annulment is fraud. Fraud is a result of misrepresentation — when your partner lies or misleads you about something that makes them incapable of performing marital obligations or poses a danger to your life or health.
While misrepresentation can be an omission or a verbal or written statement, it must be integral to the marriage relationship. For example, the SC Supreme Court has held that when a person lies about their social standing or fortune, that is insufficient to constitute fraud. Additionally, if you knew about a condition and chose to enter into the marriage anyway, the court is unlikely to consider that sufficient grounds.
Remember that the circumstances of each case differ, and the court may rule differently from case to case. It’s best to consult with a lawyer if you think you may have a fraud claim.
Duress occurs when unlawful threats or coercion cause you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do. If someone proceeds with a wedding despite having an opportunity to call it off, the court might conclude that there isn’t sufficient evidence of duress. To prove duress, you must show that you had a reasonable fear for your life or immediate bodily injury.
South Carolina law only allows marriage between persons who are not closely related. A spouse whose marriage is incestuous can seek an annulment in court. Close relations include:
- Parents and stepparents.
- Grandparents and step-grandparents.
- Children by blood, adoption or marriage.
- Grandchildren by blood, adoption or marriage.
- Uncles and aunts.
Bigamy is a situation where one party already has a living spouse. A person with an existing marriage cannot legally marry someone else — whether or not they disclose their status to their new spouse, the second marriage is automatically invalid.
There are some exceptions to this general rule, including situations where:
- The former spouse has been absent for five years or longer and you don’t know if they’re alive.
- A competent court declares the previous marriage void.
5. Mental Incapacity
Valid marriages require the participants to enter their union voluntarily. Engaging in a marriage ceremony when mentally challenged can call the marriage’s validity into question.
Someone the courts have declared an incapacitated person may be unable to give legal consent to marry. Intoxication can also leave someone unable to understand the nature and consequence of their decision, rendering the marriage invalid. The law protects individuals during such challenging times.
6. Underage Marriage
With consent from a parent or guardian, the legal marriage age is 16 in South Carolina. If you’re 18 or older, you can proceed with the marriage without approval from your parents.
Marriages are automatically invalid when:
- Both parties are underage and haven’t secured consent from a parent or guardian.
- Someone 18 or older marries an underage person without consent from the minor’s parent or guardian.
- One or both parties are 14 or younger.
7. Lack of Consummation or Cohabitation
By the letter of South Carolina law, consummation requires cohabitation. In practice, cohabitation means living together, while consummation refers to sexual relations between the couple after marriage.
If you have not lived with your spouse since you married, you may have grounds for an annulment. However, if you’ve spent even one night together, the courts may regard it as cohabitation and prevent you from seeking an annulment.
How to File an Annulment in South Carolina
Working with an experienced family and divorce attorney is essential when seeking an annulment. They will review your case to determine if you have valid grounds.
Once you’ve consulted with your attorney, you’ll take the following steps:
- File a complaint: You’ll need to file a “Complaint for Annulment” with the South Carolina circuit family court within your spouse’s residence. The complaint should state the grounds for annulment and all other matters you want the court to handle, such as child support, child custody, property distribution and alimony. It will also contain the date of your wedding, where it took place and your children’s names and birthdates.
- Serve your spouse: Serve a copy of the complaint to your spouse. You can serve the papers yourself or engage a registered agent.
- Attend the hearing: The family court will hold a hearing where your spouse will have the chance to respond. You’ll present evidence to support your legal grounds and the judge will decide whether or not to grant the order.
Your attorney should have the procedural expertise to help you get the best results with the least amount of stress.
How Long After Marriage Can You Get an Annulment?
There’s no statute of limitations on annulment in South Carolina. You can get an annulment at any point after the wedding since it voids the marriage from its inception, regardless of how much time has passed.
What Are the Effects and Consequences of an Annulment?
When the court grants your annulment, they may still decide matters involving custody, child support, visitation, property distribution and alimony. You may keep your spouse’s last name or change it to your original one.
Any children born out of the relationship are considered legitimate in South Carolina law as long as one parent entered into the marriage in good faith. Legitimacy means the child can inherit from both parents and seek financial support.
Learn More About Lauren Taylor Law and Our Legal Services
Getting a marriage annulled means it never existed in the eyes of the law, giving you the freedom to leave it behind as you start the next phase of your life. You can begin the process by gathering sufficient evidence to make your case and hiring an attorney to help you file a complaint.
Lauren Taylor Law is a reliable family and divorce law firm in South Carolina. We deliver quality legal services and partner with clients to sail through challenging times. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.
South Carolina divorce attorney Lauren Taylor practices family law in Charleston and Greenville. She graduated from the Charlotte School of Law, and has been practicing for more than ten years.
Since the firm’s inception in 2012, Mrs. Taylor has helped hundreds of people navigate the uncertainties surrounding the family and criminal court process.
She has cultivated a team that ensures each case has a strategy crafted specifically to the clients needs and desires.
Her commitment to top notch service has led her to open two additional offices in the low country where she now resides with her husband Michael and her golden retriever, Buster.