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Tennessee 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:
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.