Whereas any marriage in Nevada can end in divorce, only a few marriages are eligible to be annulled. The two main legal grounds for annulment are:
- The wedding was not lawful to begin with (“void”), or
- One of the spouses did not give meaningful consent to get married (“voidable”)
Even though a Nevada annulment is not a divorce, annulments typically involve divorce-like proceedings where courts have to determine how to divide property and child custody in Nevada.
In this article, our Las Vegas family law attorneys discuss how to get a marriage annulled in Nevada:
- 1. Divorce versus annulment
- 2. When a marriage can be annulled
- 3. How to get a marriage annulled
- 4. Out-of-state spouses or marriages
- 5. Alimony, division of property, and child custody
Both divorces and annulments legally terminate a Nevada marriage. However, the two concepts are distinct.
Annulments retroactively invalidate a marriage from the beginning. Legally, it is as if the marriage never existed.
In contrast, a divorce terminates a valid marriage beginning on the date the court grants a decree of divorce. The marriage itself remains valid from the date of the marriage through the date of the divorce.
It is common for Catholics to pursue annulments instead of divorce since Catholicism does not permit remarriage following a divorce. It is also common for couples who enter into very short, ill-advised marriages to seek an annulment instead of divorce, such as Britney Spears did after her first wedding in Las Vegas in 2004.1
All marriages can end by divorce, but only some may end by annulments. For a marriage to be annulled in Nevada, it must be “void” or “voidable.”
In Nevada, some weddings are automatically void. Even if the two people hold themselves out as married and believe they are married, these marriages are still void.
A wedding is automatically void in Nevada if:
- The spouses are related by blood; or
- Either spouse is married to another person during the marriage (bigamy).2
In Nevada, there are four types of voidable marriages:
- One of the parties was under 18 and parental consent was not obtained at the time of marriage;3
- There was a “want of understanding” between the couple at the time of the marriage. This means that one of the spouses could not have consented due to:
- Mental disability, or
- A similar mental state;4
- A spouse’s consent to the marriage was obtained by fraud (“lack of consent”).5 This can happen when someone misrepresents or hides important facts about him/herself; or
- Any other reasons for voiding a contract exist.6 Such reasons can include duress, mistake, negligent misrepresentation, or undue influence.
A voidable marriage is a legal marriage until the court voids it, if it ever does. As long as neither spouse succeeds in annulling the marriage, the court will recognize a voidable marriage as valid.
A spouse pursuing a marriage annulment (the “plaintiff”) must follow the steps below. It is highly recommended that people hire an attorney to handle the paperwork and procedures, which can be very confusing and overwhelming.
- File the proper paperwork in a Nevada District Court. The Supreme Court of Nevada supplies the necessary forms and instructions at their online self-help center. These forms can usually be filed in person, online, or through the mail.
- Have a “disinterested person” serve the other spouse (“defendant”) with a copy of the summons and complaint and any other necessary paperwork. Plaintiffs often hire a process server to serve their exes. This service needs to take place within 120 days of the original court filing. Whoever serves the defendant must complete an affidavit that service was completed. Finally, file this affidavit with the court so it knows the defendant was served. Note that the plaintiff may be able to ask the court for more time to serve the plaintiff, and the plaintiff may be able to serve the defendant directly if the defendant “waives” service.
- If 21 days pass and the defendant does not answer, file a “default” with the court clerk. The judge can then grant an annulment without hearing from the defendant. But if the defendant does file an answer within 21 days of being served, the court will schedule a hearing. There will also be some additional documents to file, including a “reply to a counterclaim” and “financial “disclosures.”7
- If the judge annuls the wedlock — either by default, agreement, or after a hearing or trial — the plaintiff will file the “decree of annulment” for the judge to sign. If the judge denies the annulment, the plaintiff can begin the appeals process. Otherwise, the plaintiff can pursue a standard divorce.8
3.1. Clark County annulment forms
Below are some legal forms Clark County District Court (which has jurisdiction over Las Vegas) accepts in annulment cases. Note that there is a $269 fee to file a complaint for annulment in Clark County.
- Complaint for Annulment (without children)
- Complaint for Annulment (with children)
- Joint Preliminary Injunction
- Declaration and Order to Extend Time to Serve
- Waiver of Service of Summons and Complaint
- Affidavit of Service
- Reply to Counterclaim
- Financial Disclosures
- Decree of Annulment (without children)
- Decree of Annulment (with children)
It is not mandatory to file a “joint preliminary injunction” when filing for an annulment, but many plaintiffs do because it prevents the defendant from:
- Disposing of community property;
- Changing the beneficiaries on retirement accounts or insurance plans;
- Harassing each other, each other’s family, or pets; and
- Moving the children (if any) out of Nevada without written permission
Go to the Clark County Annulment Self-Help website for more information.
4. Getting a marriage annulled in Nevada if a spouse lives out-of-state or if the wedding was out-of-state
Anyone that was married in Nevada can seek an annulment in a Nevada court. Neither spouse needs to be a Nevada resident.
If the wedding occurred in another state, then one of the spouses must live in Nevada for at least six (6) weeks before filing the annulment request. In other words, there is a six-week residency requirement.9
Nevada has little case law on how Nevada courts divide property following an annulment, but there seem to be two “bright-line” rules:
- Alimony in Nevada is not available following an annulment unless one of the spouses acted in bad faith. Spousal support is generally a benefit of divorce, not annulment. But if one of the spouses mistreated the other, then courts may award “equitable alimony.”10
- If both spouses entered into the marriage in good faith and believed it was valid, then the court will divide their assets according to Nevada community property principles. In short, courts follow the putative spouse doctrine in Nevada in this type of circumstance: The court treats ex-couples as ex-spouses for purposes of dividing their property as long as they were acting in good faith.11
When deciding child custody issues, the main factor courts take into account is what is in the best interest of the children in Nevada (NRS 125C.0035). See our article on how Nevada courts determine child custody for unmarried parents.
It is possible for spouses to file for an annulment on their own. However, annulling a marriage seriously affects their rights to not only their property but also their children. An experienced Las Vegas divorce lawyer can help determine whether getting annulled is worth pursuing and how best to go about it.
For additional help…
Annulling a marriage may or may not be your best option. Our Nevada divorce attorneys will help you make the right decision. And throughout your case, our law firm will protect your legal rights.
- John Berman and Edward Lovett, “Britney Spears’ Ex, Jason Alexander, Reflects on 55-Hour Marriage: ‘I Was in Love’“, ABC News (February 4, 2012).
- NRS 125.300 – marriage contract void; NRS 125.290; Williams v. Williams, 120 Nev. 559, 97 P.3d 1124 (2004)(“An annulment proceeding is the proper manner to dissolve a void marriage and resolve other issues arising from the dissolution of the relationship.”)
- NRS 125.320.
- NRS 125.330; see e.g., McNee v. McNee, 49 Nev. 90, 237 P. 534 (1924)(“…the burden being on plaintiff to prove by clear and satisfactory evidence that he was so far intoxicated when he went through the marriage ceremony as to have been incapable of giving a rational assent to the obligations imposed.”)
- NRS 125.340; Irving v. Irving, 122 Nev. 494, 134 P.3d 718 (2006)(“[P]ublic policy in favor of [being married] and against [getting annulled], and the burden of proof established by this court in other annulment proceedings, compels a clear and convincing burden in annulments based on fraud.”).
- NRS 125.350.
- NRS 125.360.
- NRS 125.380; Irving v. Irving, 122 Nev. 494, 134 P.3d 718 (2006)(“This court reviews [annulling] proceedings for an abuse of discretion. Thus, a district court’s decision to [annul] will not be disturbed on appeal if it is supported by substantial evidence.”).
- NRS 125.360; NRS 125.370.
- Williams v. Williams, 120 Nev. 559, 97 P.3d 1124 (2004)(“[A]limony is not available in an equitable action for [annulling] because the right to alimony depends upon a valid marriage…In those cases, the courts found fraud, bad faith or bad conduct, such as cruelty, to support the award of equitable alimony. In the instant case, Richard and Marcie each acted in good faith…The putative spouse doctrine did not traditionally provide for an award of spousal support.”)
- Williams v. Williams, 120 Nev. 559, 97 P.3d 1124 (2004)(“[W]e adopt the putative spouse doctrine in annulment proceedings for purposes of property division[.]“)