Why An Annulment Doesn't Really Erase Your Marriage

Why An Annulment Doesn't Really Erase Your Marriage

Don't delude yourself into believing your marriage never happened like these celebrities.

Have you ever noticed how many terms we use that come from golf? Something may be "teed up" or "par for the course." My favorite is "mulligan," which is a do-over without penalty. A chance to pretend you didn't screw up and start over. There are times in all of our lives when we wish for a mulligan but is that ever really possible? Well, consider annulment . . .

In a way, annulment is a mulligan in the game of marriage. With the stroke of a pen, a judge declares that your marriage never really happened, your mistake is reversed, and you're free to start over. If the celebrity world is any indicator, annulment has become the option of choice in quickly ending a marriage. But here's the deal with annulment: it's not easy to get one. In fact, it's much easier to get a divorce because all you have to allege is "irreconcilable differences" and, bingo, you've got grounds for divorce. It's nobody’s fault, things just didn't work out.

An annulment, on the other hand, requires that the party seeking the annulment to prove mental illness, fraud, forced consent, physical incapacity to consummate the marriage, or lack of consent to underage marriage or bigamy. In other words, to get an annulment you have to allege and prove that, had you known the true facts and been in your right mind, you never would have gotten married in the first place. It's a bit ironic, don't you think, that divorce — which acknowledges the validity of marriage — is easier to get than an annulment, which says the marriage was void to begin with. 

The requirement that one must allege and prove wrongdoing to be granted an annulment is why:

  1. Renee Zellweger alleged fraud when she filed for an annulment of her marriage to Kenny Chesney.
  2. Ditto for when Dennis Rodman sought an annulment of his marriage to Carmen Electra. Rodman doubled down and also claimed he was too drunk to know what he was doing.
  3. Britney Spears alleged in her annulment petition that she "lacked understanding of her actions to the extent that she was incapable of agreeing to the marriage" to Jason Alexander "because before entering into the marriage the Plaintiff and Defendant did not know each others likes and dislikes, each others desires to have or not have children, and each others desires as to State of residency."
  4. Pamela Anderson and Rick Salomen BOTH cited fraud as grounds for their annulment.

Each of those couples could have filed for divorce and alleged irreconcilable differences, but to get an annulment they had to allege fraud, unsound mind, or another legal ground justifying an annulment. Here's why . . .

The historical basis for annulment is deeply rooted in the fact that many religions take that "until death do us part" vow uber-seriously. For example, Catholicism doesn't condone or acknowledge divorce. This presented a real problem for guys like Henry VIII who tired quickly of his wives. Since even a king couldn't get a divorce on any grounds, the church had to find a work around and, thus, the concept of annulment was born. Just pretend like the marriage never happened and all is well in both heaven and earth. After all, if you were drunk from drinking too much mead (like Dennis Rodman), or too stupid to ask the right questions about children and where to live (like Britney Spears), or defrauded in some vague way (like Renee Zellweger, Dennis Rodman, Pamela Anderson and Rick Salomen), how could you be held to marriage vows that were based on a mistake of fact? Declaring a marriage void from the get-go allowed one to stay within the strictures of the church. No marriage, no divorce. Problem solved.

As a relationship coach, I understand that there are situations where annulment is truly appropriate, e.g., your new spouse already has a carefully hidden old spouse. However, I call foul when people like Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney jump into marriage after knowing each other barely long enough to appropriately call each other by their first names, then figure out they shouldn't have done it, and allege non-existent fraud as grounds for an annulment. No, there really wasn’t any fraud. When asked, Zellweger initially said, the term was "simply legal language and not a reflection of Kenny's character." That was quickly followed by a joint statement to clarify, which read in part, "The miscommunication of the objective of their marriage at the start is the only reason for this annulment." As a former attorney, I assure you that a “miscommunication of the objective of their marriage” is not fraud. It is nonsensical legal speak in an attempt to justify the allegation of fraud and undo Zellweger's unwitting admission that there was no fraud. The kind of fraud that annulment requires is out and out lies — big lies. Stuff like already having a spouse, being on the FBI’s most wanted list, or saying you want kids when you know you’re infertile. It's not uncommon, as this situation illustrates, for couples to stretch the truth to justify the annulment.

Marriage is not something that should be entered into lightly and certainly not without knowing each other well enough to be certain you are in agreement about whether to have children, where to live, your marriage and life goals, and so much more. When you marry irresponsibly, an annulment doesn't change that fact. An annulment — pretending like your marriage never happened — may allow you to delude yourself into thinking that it doesn't count. But it does.

Like it or not, celebrities are role models. It is my hope that those who look up to the Renee Zellwegers of the world do not get the message that it's par for the course to blithely get married because you can always get a marriage mulligan. Call it what you want — divorce, annulment or whoops — nothing changes the fact that Renee, Kenny, Carmen, Dennis, et al., all jumped into marriage irresponsibly.

The best way to avoid both divorce and annulment is to tee up your marriage to succeed by taking all the time you need to stop, think, act, and make responsible decisions. Oh, and one more thing: enjoy celebrities for the entertainment they provide but take their marriages, divorces and annulments with a grain of salt.