The reality TV show Married at First Sight usually prompts two questions from its viewers:
- Do the couples really get married?
- Can they get their marriages annulled?
The first question (marriage) has an easy answer — yes, the couples actually do get married. The show, prior cast members, and public records have made this clear.
The second question (annulment) is where things get tricky.
If you haven’t seen the show, Married at First Sight matches two strangers who, in a giant leap of faith, get married without knowing anything about each other. The first time they meet is at the altar.
The show then follows the couples over the next two months as their marriage blossoms (or withers). The show ends with “Decision Day” — the day when the couples decide whether they will remain married or get a divorce. (If you’re wondering who watches Married at First Sight, the answer is enough people to support the show through 12 seasons).
While no marriage is perfect, each season of Married at First Sight presents viewers with at least one example of an unusually troubled marriage. The problems often revolve around a series of lies or deceit or because one spouse is shockingly disrespectful. In these cases, viewers wonder, can the victim-spouse get an annulment?
The answer depends entirely on the state in which the couples reside at the time they seek annulment. If the parties live in North Carolina, then North Carolina annulment law applies. (Note: Season nine of Married at First Sight featured North Carolina couples). There are no federal laws on annulling a marriage.
Annulments in North Carolina are rare, mainly because of how difficult they are to obtain. Divorce is thus the most common way of legally ending a marriage. Importantly, only a judge can annul a marriage (or grant a divorce). This requires a civil lawsuit requesting one or the other, even in cases where both parties want the marriage to end.
North Carolina marriage law does not allow a couple to annul their marriage based on how long (or how short) they’ve been married — a 10 day marriage will be treated the same as a 10 year marriage. It does not matter if the spouses got married within minutes of first meeting each other. Nor can an annulment be granted because one spouse is disrespectful, manipulative, or abusive.
An annulment may be granted in North Carolina only if one of the following situations existed at the time the parties were married:
- Bigamy: where the marriage is bigamous (i.e., one spouse is already married to someone else and hasn’t been divorce)
- Family Members: Where the spouses are too closely related (i.e., nearer of kin than first cousins, or between double first cousins)
- Underage: Where one or both spouses are underage (i.e., under the age of 16 and do not qualify under any exception)
- Impotence: Where one spouse is physically impotent (i.e., unable to have sexual intercourse)
- Incapacity: Where one spouse is incapable of contracting (to marry) from want of will or understanding (i.e., they don’t have the mental capacity to understand the significance of marriage (its duties and responsibilities) or they were “unduly influenced” to enter into the marriage)
- Fraud: Where the marriage is based on the representation and belief the female spouse is pregnant, followed by a continuous one-year separation of the parties, commenced within forty-five days of marriage, unless a child is born to the parties within 10 months of separation
While Married at First Sight provides viewers a uniquely intimate look into the lives of a few newlywed-strangers, the show typically does not give the public enough information to determine whether a particular couple could get their marriage annulled.
Some grounds for annulment in North Carolina are more concrete and objective than others. For example, while it will be easy to determine someone’s age, it will be difficult to determine whether someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease was unduly influenced to enter into the marriage. If you believe an annulment might be appropriate in your case, a consultation with an experienced family law attorney can assist you to determine your best options going forward.
The experienced domestic and family law attorneys at Hartsoe & Associates, P.C. can help you assess the circumstances leading up to and existing at the time of your marriage and represent you during your separation whether you want to obtain a divorce or annulment. With offices in Winston-Salem and Greensboro, we serve clients throughout the Piedmont Triad area including High Point and Greensboro in Guilford County; Winston-Salem, Kernersville, and Clemmons in Forsyth County; Lexington and Thomasville in Davidson County; Mocksville in Davie County; Dobson in Surry County; and more.