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When is a marriage ‘absolutely null’ or ‘relatively null’? p2

We are talking about how Louisiana law treats marriages that for one reason or another should not have taken place. Remember, a valid marriage requires the man and woman to consent to the marriage contract and to participate in a legitimate marriage ceremony. In addition, there cannot be a legal impediment to the marriage.

If there is a legal impediment, though, the marriage may be either absolutely null or relatively null. In our last post, we discussed the conditions that would render a marriage absolutely null, that is, as if the ceremony had never occurred. Here, we are moving on to relatively null marriages.

A relatively null marriage is only null from the moment it was declared so by a court. Here, a person who did not freely consent to the marriage may ask the court to nullify the marriage. Consent would not be freely given if the man or woman were under duress, and duress includes actual or threatened violence.

A person “incapable of discernment” is also incapable of consent. The term includes a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a person with a cognitive disability and a person too young to grasp fully the consequences of his or her actions.

Returning to the scenario in our last post, let’s say the couple marries on Saturday, opens gifts on Sunday, and, come Monday, the wife realizes that she was too drunk to know what she was doing. She may ask the court to declare the marriage relatively null. When the court agrees, the couple’s marriage is annulled, but the marriage still took place; the couple was married for the time between the Saturday ceremony and the court’s decision.

If she changes her mind, the couple does not need to go through another ceremony. They only need to have the “relatively null” ruling set aside.

What happens to any property acquired during one of these marriages — all those gifts opened on Sunday, for example? That is a subject for another post. It’s important to understand, though, that there are consequences to having a marriage declared either absolutely or relatively null.

Source: Louisiana Civil Code, Book 1, Title IV, Chapters 1 and 2, via WestlawNext

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