When Spouses Repent in Haste

Sometimes people marry, only to realize almost immediately that they blundered in taking the plunge. May-December marriages, where an aging man tries to find a young woman to take care of him; impulse marriages after a get away in Las Vegas; rebound marriages when one person finds loneliness after divorce too heavy a burden — all may become what are called “short marriages” in the eyes of court, which in short order is called upon to put them asunder.

A short marriage is one where the financial affairs of the parties “do not become so commingled that they cannot easily be restored to premarital situation,” as one court put it. A short marriage, while it cannot be quantified in terms of years, is almost always a childless marriage. For want of rule of thumb, however, a short marriage is generally held to be five or fewer years. In some jurisdictions, if the parties have limited assets and have been married only a few years, a short marriage may easily be ended with a summary action, where both spouses jointly petition the courts to end the marriage.

Summary actions do not allow for alimony or appeal.

The dissolution of short marriages calls forth the image of King Solomon and his sword: a swift cut that attempts “the restoration of spouses to the economic position they occupied before the marriage.” Sometimes this may be as simple as allowing each partner to keep what he or she brought to the marriage and cutting everything marital in two. In fact, in 1988 Alaska case — Rose v. Rose– the court said of short marriage that is it analogous to a contractual “action in rescission.” When the marriage is without substantial marital property, the logic of action of rescission is easy to apply.

To be sure, ending a short marriage is not the same as an annulment, which ends a marriage that was flawed from the onset. Short marriages are lawful in every way. Under the right set of circumstances, however, they may be easier to end than a longer marriage, with property and assets.

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