The calls – they come in a few times a year – go something like this: “I met this person the other night. I thought it was love. We got married. We both decided it was a bad idea! Since we’ve only been married 2 days, can we get an annulment? I don’t want to have to wait a year to get a divorce when I’ve only been married 2 days.”
I usually have to give these callers bad news. Annulments are hard to come by in North Caroline. By statute, annulments are available if:
- You’ve married someone you are related to closer than first cousins or someone who is your double first cousin (imagine what that would do to your family tree!)
- One of the couple is under 16 and the other is over 16, unless there has been prior court approval or unless the young lady under 16 is pregnant;
- You’ve married someone who is already married (bigamy);
- One of the parties was legally incompetent, meaning that this spouse has been, or could be declared incompetent and in need of a guardian.
Most likely, the legislature didn’t want a “shortcut” to get out of marriages right away because they wanted marriage to be entered seriously. Legislators may have believed that having a rule that marriage cannot be undone easily would cause couples to reflect more before tying the knot (although that obviously hasn’t worked with everyone).
As you can see from the list, there is nothing in the statute allowing annulments simply because marriage has been very brief or has not yet been consummated. If you don’t fit one of the listed categories, under North Carolina law you and your spouse must be separated (out from under the same roof, and acting like you are separated) for one year before either party can file for divorce. Some other states allow divorce after shorter period of separation for residents of those states, but moving your residence would be necessary.
On a related question, North Carolina law does not recognize common law marriage. In North Carolina, a valid marriage occurs only after obtaining a marriage license and having the marriage performed by an authorized minister, or by a magistrate, or by the customs of any religious denomination or any recognized Indian tribe. Where common law marriage is recognized, like in South Carolina, couples are regarded as married if they have resided together as if they were husband and wife for some substantial period of time, but have never had a marriage license.
North Carolina allows persons under 18 to marry under some circumstances. Permission by a parent having sole or joint legal custody enables someone between 16 and 18 to marry; consent of both parents is not required. Persons between 14 and 16 can marry if the young woman is pregnant or has had a child, but only if a judge concludes it is in the best interest of the underage party or parties to marry.
Some of North Carolina’s laws about marriage are as old as the state itself, and some are quite new. Because society’s ideas about marriage change over the years, laws change too, although not always at the same pace.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough, NC. She can be reached at 919-732-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was last updated in January 2020.