Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Annulment Definition:

To make void forever; to cancel an event or judicial proceeding both retroactively and for the future so that in the eyes of the law, it never occurred.

Related Terms: Marriage

Where, for example, a marriage is annulled, it is struck from all records and stands as having never transpired in law.

This differs from a divorce which merely cancels a valid marriage only from the date of the divorce. A marriage is said to be dissolved (dissolution) by a divorce whereas an annulment is a judge's formal declaration that the marriage, in law, never existed.

A marriage annulled stands, in law, as if never performed. To wit, these words of Justice Richard Arnold of the United States Court of Appeals in Everetts:

"(A)n annulment is a judicial declaration that no marriage existed."

Care should be taken where the word is used in context other than family law as it has been known to occur in the jurisprudence as if synonymous with cancellation, revocation or dissolution. For example, in Committee on Legal Ethics, the Court had occasion to note the by-laws of the West Virginia State Bar by-laws that:

"The license of any attorney shall be annulled and such attorney shall be disbarred upon proof that he has been convicted ... of any crime involving moral turpitude or professional unfitness."

However, in a bankruptcy case, In re Lett, Justice Jerry Venters of the United States Bankruptcy Court wrote:

"Annul means, among other things, to make void or of no effect, to nullify or do away with. To annul a judgment or judicial proceeding is to deprive it of all force and operation, either ab initio or prospectively as to future transactions."

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