What Is an Invalid Marriage?

An invalid marriage is one that the state will not or may not recognize as a legal union. California considers certain unions void and others voidable, which can change property ownership situations and financial/future planning for individuals and couples. If the court deems your union invalid, your options for separation may change. Understanding the factors that make a marriage invalid can help you plan for your future.

Understanding Valid Marriages

The state of California generally recognizes marriages as valid if the couple obtained a county marriage license and completed a marriage ceremony with a legally authorized official. Upon meeting the terms of licensing, the county issues a marriage certificate and couples begin their lives together.

A marriage certificate alone does not always prove the validity of your marriage. The state considers some marriage licenses completely void and others voidable, depending on the situation. If you nor your spouse has committed any invalidating acts, your marriage is likely above board and valid. In other words, you must likely file for a divorce or legal separation as opposed to an annulment.

7 Times the Court Considers Marriages Void or Voidable

If the state deems your marriage void, it can’t exist under current laws. The state will not recognize it as ever having been legally valid. Voidable marriages, on the other hand, are marriages that can be deemed invalid under certain conditions. The state will nullify a voidable marriage if someone challenges it, but will not proactively invalidate these unions.

California Family Code §2200-2210 outlines state laws for determining the validity of a marriage. The most common reasons courts in California will invalidate a marriage license include:

  • Incest (void). Relatives of every degree may not legally marry. In the eyes of the law, marriages involving blood relatives cannot exist, regardless of the legitimacy of the relationship.
  • Bigamy (void). The state voids any marriages that take place if one party is already legally married, unless:
    • The marriage was dissolved or nullified before the second marriage took place
    • The former spouse has been completely out of the picture for five or more years and thought to be dead at the time of the second marriage.
  • Sham (void). Those who marry for the sole reason of gaining entrance to the United States and legally living here, cannot claim a valid marriage. In addition to civil consequences, sham marriages also have criminal implications.
  • Underage (voidable). Minors are incapable of consenting to marriage. In California, individuals must be 18 or older to independently marry. Minors must receive both parental consent and a court order to enter a valid union.
  • Incapacity (voidable). If one of the spouses was mentally incapable of understanding the union at the time of marriage, the court may consider the marriage voidable. The state may also consider a marriage voidable if one party was physically incapable of fulfilling the duties of a marriage state and the incapacity appears continual.
  • Fraud (voidable). California may grant an annulment if one party can prove the other misled him or her into the marriage.
  • Duress (voidable). If one party forced the other into marriage, the state may grant an annulment.

Proving an Invalid Marriage

To prove that your marriage is invalid, you must identify one of the void or voidable reasons, and provide evidence of the situation. All voidable marriages include exceptions to the rule. For example, if you willingly live with a spouse after you reach the age of majority, after learning about the act of fraud, or after regaining soundness of mind, the state will consider your marriage legally valid. To receive an annulment, you must not only prove the marriage to be voidable, but also file for nullification within the applicable statute of limitations.

We highly recommend speaking with an attorney if you believe your marriage is invalid. Invalid marriages can have complex consequences for those who wish to stay married and those who wish to separate, divorce, or nullify the union.