Understanding “Voidable” Marriages in Florida

divorce lawyer explaining documentMost people enter into marriages, believing that they truly enter into a relationship that will last until death, or at the very least, until they decide to end it on their own terms. There are times, however, when a marriage might not be valid due to underlying circumstances. In these situations, the marriage will either be declared “void” or “voidable,” and the options left to the former spouses vary depending on the type of marriage they have engaged in.

“Void” Marriages

Like most states, Florida courts have made a distinction between “void” and “voidable” marriages. One way to differentiate between the two is to look at when these marriages are determined void. A void marriage is automatically determined to be void, even without any court intervention. A voidable marriage, on the other hand, generally requires that the parties annul the marriage through court proceedings. Even though a void marriage needs no action in order to be terminated, it is still recommended that parties to a void marriage go through formal procedures to annul the marriage. Some situations that make a marriage void include:

-incest (where the couple is closely related by blood or marriage)
-bigamy (where one spouse is married to more than one person)
-permanent mental incapability (where one spouse is unable to consent to the marriage)
-age (where both spouses are underage)

In addition to these, until recently, same sex marriages were also void in Florida.

“Voidable” Marriages

Whereas void marriages are inherently void, voidable marriages require that the marriage be challenged in court in order to void the marriage. As such, many of the types of voidable marriages look to the knowing and willing ability of one or both parties to enter into the marriage contract. The following is a list exploring the different types of voidable marriages.

Temporary Lack of Capacity
Unlike permanent mental incapability, a marriage formed when one party has a temporary lack of capacity can result from a number of causes. The most identifiable example, however, is due to intoxication. This type of marriage is voidable because one party is prevented from knowingly contracting to enter the marriage due to the temporary lack of capacity.

Fraud or Duress
Other reasons a marriage may be voidable might be because one party entered the marriage through either fraud or duress. Fraud is essentially some misrepresentation that caused a party to enter into the marriage, especially when that party would not have entered the marriage absent the misrepresentation. Duress on the other hand, requires that a party be forced into the marriage in some way, shape, or form.

Unlike the type of void marriage in which both parties are underage, if one party is underage and lacks the consent of his parent or guardian, then the marriage will be a voidable marriage. This seeks to protect minors who may not have the capacity to contract, but also acknowledges that there are circumstances where such marriages might take place.

Undisclosed impotence
While most other types of voidable marriages go to the conscious and willing decision to marry, undisclosed impotence goes more to the ability to consummate the marriage through childbirth. While it may seem a bit archaic, undisclosed impotence is still a recognized form of voidable marriage today.

Entering into it as a joke
Finally, there is the situation in which a person enters into the marriage as a joke. While a marriage should be a reverent and joyous occasion, there are times when people might, on the surface, agree to the marriage, without realizing the gravity of the situation. In these cases, courts have recognized the sanctity of marriage by allowing couples to annul the marriage when one or both parties have entered into the marriage as a joke.

What Happens Next?

If you find yourself involved in a voidable marriage, there are generally two acceptable options available to you. The first is to completely exterminate the marital relationship through annulment, while the second option is to rehabilitate and validate the marriage.

It is well understood that divorce marks the end of a marriage, and that the life that was once shared between spouses must be divided. Divorce, however, is not the only available option when it comes to terminating the marriage. In some cases, annulment may be a possibility. While a divorce might mark the end of a marriage, an annulment takes things a step further and, under the eyes of the state, exterminates the marital contract. In short, it erases all obligations the former spouses may have had to one another, and completely terminates the marital relationship. While this does eliminate the marital relationship under the eyes of the state, this might not fulfill the requirements of a religious annulment, and parties may need to seek further counsel from religious leaders should they so desire.

In order to validate a voidable marriage, the spouses must first discover the issue that makes the marriage voidable. For example, if one party to a marriage had entered into the marriage as a joke, the other spouse must first learn of the intentions of the first spouse. This discovery triggers both the opportunity to annul the marriage, as well as the opportunity to rehabilitate the marriage. In this way, courts allow spouses who have entered into a voidable marriage to make an informed decision regarding whether or not they wish to remain in the marriage.

Once the issue has been discovered, in order to rehabilitate the marriage, the parties to a marriage must consummate the marriage through consensual intercourse. Courts will generally view this as a willing acceptance by both parties of the issue that made the marriage voidable, and removes the threat of deception and unfairness that generally comes with a voidable marriage. The option of rehabilitation, however, is not available to void marriages.