Marriage Annulment in Tennessee

Marriage Annulled in TennesseeTennessee law allows some marriages to be ended by annulment rather than by divorce. An annulment is not the same thing as a divorce: divorce terminates a valid marriage, while annulment means there was never a valid marriage to begin with. If there is a legal reason your marriage was invalid from the beginning, you may be eligible to have your marriage annulled in Tennessee.

Grounds For an Annulment

There are a number of legal grounds for annulment in Tennessee, including:

    • Insanity – a spouse was insane or unable to understand the nature of marriage when the spouses married. If a spouse was insane at the time of marriage, then the marriage can be annulled. However, if the “insane” spouse regains sanity during the marriage and continues to live with the other spouse, the marriage will not be annulled;
    • Underage – one or both spouses was too young to be married. The legal age for marriage in Tennessee is 16. However, a spouse that is under the age of 16 may get permission from a circuit court judge to get married. If the person who was under the age of 16 at the time of marriage did not have a circuit court judge’s permission, a person acting on an underage spouse’s behalf, like a parent or guardian, can file for the annulment in place of the underage spouse;
    • Incest – the spouses are related, closer than first cousin. However, if one spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of marriage, but that husband or wife had been missing for at least five years with no sign of life, the marriage will not be annulled;
    • Bigamy – a spouse has a living husband or wife at the time of marriage;
    • Duress – a spouse only married because they were coerced;
    • Fraud – one spouse defrauded the other into getting married. For fraud to be a legal ground to annul a marriage, the fraud has to be essential to the marriage. If the wife was pregnant by another man at the time of marriage, that will be grounds for annulment by fraud unless the spouses also had sexual relations before marriage. Also, if one spouse was sterilized before the marriage and did not tell the other spouse, that may be grounds for annulment. Other types of fraud are unlikely to be enough for an annulment.
    • Impotence – one spouse physically cannot have sexual intercourse. For a marriage to be annulled because a spouse is impotent, the impotence has to be permanent, and the impotence has to have existed before the marriage; and
    • Denial of marital rights – one spouse refuses to live with the other or have sexual relations during the marriage. If a spouse wants an annulment based on a denial of marital rights, they must have never lived together or had sexual intercourse. If the spouses signed an agreement before the marriage agreeing not to live together, however, the marriage will not be annulled for this reason.

Effect of an Annulment

When an annulment is granted, it means you never had a valid marriage. You can legally say you were never married to your former spouse after an annulment. At your annulment hearing, the judge can decide the same issues that come up in divorce: custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.

If you had children during a marriage that is annulled, they will be considered legitimate under Tennessee law. Children that are legitimate have the right to be financially supported by both parents, and can inherit from either parent.

Marriages performed by an “online” ordained minister

If you were married in Tennessee by a minister that was ordained by an online organization, such as the Universal Life Church, your marriage may not be valid, and you may be entitled to an annulment. Specifically, Tennessee law provides that “All regular ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, rabbis and other spiritual leaders of every religious belief, more than eighteen (18) years of age, having the care of souls . . . may solemnize the rite of matrimony.” Tenn. Code Ann. section 36-3-301.

Moreover, in “order to solemnize the rite of matrimony, any such minister, preacher, pastor, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leaders must be ordained or otherwise designated in conformity with the customs of a church, temple or other religious group or organization; and such customs must provide for such ordination or designation by a considered, deliberate, and responsible act.  Tenn. Code Ann. section 36-3-301. (emphasis added). A 2015 Tennessee attorney general’s opinion says Tennessee law was amended in 1998 to explicitly spell out who can perform marriages. The code was amended to reinforce a 1997 attorney general’s opinion that implicitly disqualified Universal Life Church ministers, specifically, from officiating marriages.

The Universal Life Church fails to meet those requirements related to ordination being a considered, deliberate and responsible act, according to the opinion. “Other than the click of a mouse, no’ considered, deliberate, and responsible act’ as required by Tennessee Code Annotated 36-3-301” occurs. As such, if you were married by a Universal Life Church minister, or a minister ordained solely online by another organization, your marriage may not be valid in Tennessee.

If you have specific questions about whether your marriage can be annulled, contact the family lawyer Memphis, TN trusts from Wiseman Bray PLLC today.