When a marriage comes to an end, deciding whether an annulment, separation or divorce is the right choice can be difficult. In this article, we will discuss each option in turn, so you can begin to get an idea of what may be the best way forward for you, before your appointment with a solicitor.
What is an annulment?
An annulment is a way of bringing a marriage to an end. While a divorce can only be applied for after one year of marriage, an annulment can be applied for within the first year of marriage.
In what circumstances can a marriage be annulled?
In order to annul a marriage, you may need to show that it was never legally valid, or ‘void’. This could occur if, for example, you and your spouse were under 16 years old when you married or you or your spouse were already married when you married. In these circumstances, the marriage never legally existed.
Alternatively, you can show that the marriage was in fact legally valid but is ‘voidable’. Reasons for this can include:
- you did not consummate the marriage (this does not apply for same-sex couples)
- your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease when you married
- your spouse was expecting someone else’s baby when you married
Annulment can be very complex. If you think it may be an option for you, it’s a good idea to seek advice from an experienced family solicitor as soon as possible.
What is a divorce?
A divorce brings a legal end to a marriage. Divorces are much more common than annulments, as the reasons for annulling a marriage are fairly limited.
In what circumstances can I get a divorce?
In order to divorce, you will need to have been married for at least one year. You will need to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down and base the divorce on one of the following 5 reasons or ‘grounds’:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for 2 years (with consent from your spouse)
- Separation for 5 years (no consent necessary)
What does legal separation mean?
Legal separation does not legally end a marriage like a divorce does, but rather enables a couple to live separately, while remaining married. As such, you will not need to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. However, you will need to provide reasons for the legal separation (these are the same as for a divorce, as discussed above). You will have a court order outlining the rights and responsibilities of both you and your spouse as part of your legal separation.