Arizona law empowers its superior courts to “adjudge a marriage to be null and void when the cause alleged constitutes an impediment rendering the marriage void.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-301. When an annulment is granted, Arizona courts proceed as though the marriage had never existed in the first place. “Upon annulment, a marriage is deemed ‘dissolve[d]’ and adjudged ‘null and void.’” State ex rel. Dept. of Economic v. Demetz, 130 P.3d 986 (Ariz. App. 2006). “[U]nlike a dissolution decree, which terminates a valid marriage as of the date of judgment, an annulment decree invalidates a marriage from its inception, thereby establishing that the marital status never existed.” Id.
Of course, while individuals cohabitate under the belief that they are lawfully married, they may acquire property together and have children. The Arizona Court of Appeals has even gone so far as to indicate that a marital “community” was still created for purposes of applying community property law, even when a marriage is annulled. See Hammett v. Hammett, 453 P.3d 1145 (Ariz. App. 2019). As a result, even when a marriage is annulled, an Arizona court may still divide the community property of the parties and, if there are minor children involved, make decisions about parenting time, legal decision-making, and child support. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-302(B).
You may be wondering, then, why some individuals might prefer a legal annulment rather over a divorce. There are many personal reasons why an individual might seek a legal annulment of their marriage, such as its implications for religious beliefs or other cultural concerns. However, from a legal standpoint, an annulment may impact certain legal rights, such as whether a party is entitled to spousal maintenance. Additionally, whether a marriage is void, may have implications for other areas of law touching on property rights and financial benefits. Below are some examples of that legal reasons that might render a marriage void or voidable under Arizona law.
I. FRAUD / CONCEALMENT
The Arizona Supreme Court has stated that “[a] marriage may be annulled when the false representation or concealment is such that a fundamental purpose of the injured party in entering in the marriage is defeated.” Means v. Industrial Commission, 515 P.2d 29 (Ariz. 1973). For example, in Jackson v. Industrial Commission, the Arizona Industrial Commission attempted to overrule a trial court’s judgment of annulment, which was entered based on an allegation of false protestations of love and affection and fraudulent intent. See Jackson v. Industrial Commission, 592 P.2d 1258 (Ariz. 1979). While the Arizona Supreme Court did not ultimately reach the question of whether false statements of love and affection constitute a valid basis for annulment, the Court did find that the Arizona Industrial Commission did not have the power to ignore the judgment of the trial court. See id. Similarly, false statements regarding religious belief may give rise to a basis for annulment. The Arizona Court of Appeals has held that “a person who entertains deep religious convictions and who goes through a marriage ceremony performed by a pastor of her church then believing that her new spouse is of like religious convictions and shortly thereafter learns the falsity thereof has established a sufficient absence of mutuality to render the marriage void, or at least voidable, by reason of the absence of the meeting of the minds.” State Compensation Fund v. Foughty, 476 P.2d 902 (Ariz. App. 1971).
Another basis for annulment is incest. In Arizona, “[m]arriage between parents and children, including grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between brothers and sisters of the one-half as well as the whole blood, and between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews and between first cousins, is prohibited and void.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-101(A). There is one exception for first cousins, who “may marry if both are sixty-five years of age or older or if one or both first cousins are under sixty-five years of age, upon approval of any superior court judge in the state if proof has been presented to the judge that one of the cousins is unable to reproduce.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 25-101(B).
Under Arizona law, “[a] person having a spouse living who knowingly marries any other person is guilty of a class 5 felony.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 13-3606(A). Furthermore, the Arizona Constitution provides that “[p]olygamous or plural marriages, or polygamous co-habitation, are forever prohibited within this state.” Ariz. Const. Art. 20, § 2. Consequently, the Arizona Court of Appeals has indicated that bigamy renders marriage void ab initio. In re Estate of Rodriguez, 160 P.3d 679 (Ariz. App. 2007); State v. Fischer, 199 P.3d 663 (Ariz. App. 2008).
IV. LACK OF CONSENT / MENTAL ILLNESS / DURESS / INTOXICATION
“Since marriages in which one or both of the parties are incapable of contracting are not void . . . they are voidable.” Medlin v. Medlin, 981 P.2d 1087 (Ariz. App. 1999). Accordingly, circumstances that would preclude consent or a “meeting of the minds” between the parties entering into the marriage might give rise to a basis for annulment. See id. For example, in an unpublished opinion, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s judgment of annulment based on the allegation that one spouse was disabled due to dementia and incompetent to make decisions in her own best interest. See Savittieri v. Williams, No. I CA-CV 12-0517 (Ariz. App. 2014).
VI. UNDERAGED MARRIAGE / LACK OF PARENTAL CONSENT
Under Arizona law, “[p]ersons who are under sixteen years of age shall not marry.” ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 102(B). However, “[a] person who is at least sixteen years of age and who is under eighteen years of age may marry” under a couple of very specific and limited circumstances. See ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 102(A). First, such an individual may marry if the person has received an emancipation order (either pursuant to Arizona statute or received from a court in another state) and that person’s prospective spouse is not more than three (3) years older than that person. See id. Second, such a person may marry if “[t]he parent or guardian who has custody of the person consents to the marriage and the person’s prospective spouse is not more than three years older than the person.” See id.
VII. INABILITY TO CONSUMMATE MARRIAGE / IMPOTENCY
The Arizona Court of Appeals has opined that while impotency may no longer serve as a basis for annulment, “the intimate relationship between husband and wife is a vital part of the marriage and that fraudulent representations in relation thereto prior to the marriage ‘constitute an impediment’ negating the necessary intent to contract a valid marriage thereby ‘rendering the marriage void’.” Means v. Industrial Commission, 508 P.2d 371 (Ariz. App. 1973). These types cases fall under the broader umbrella of fraud that might render a marriage voidable.
VIII. OTHER BASES FOR ANNULMENT
There may be other bases for an annulment under Arizona law. Every case is unique, with its own facts and circumstances, and it is not possible to list and describe every set of circumstances that might support a request for annulment under Arizona law. If you or a loved one is considering an annulment or a divorce, contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to schedule a consultation.
Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law. This publication does not constitute legal advice or council, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.