We have all heard about the famous Las Vegas trips that end up with a journey to ‘The Little White Chapel’, now made famous by the Hangover movies. That one weekend away, after too many martinis and tequila sunshine cocktails that end up with a man and a woman getting hitched via an Elvis impersonator. People have written songs and made movies about it. Britney Spears is among the long list of celebrities to famously get married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Shortly after tying the knot, her marriage was annulled. Although we hear about it in the news, many people do not fully understand what an annulment is and why it is more than a “get out of jail” card that the media often portrays it to be.
An annulment ultimately completely “undoes” the marriage, it is as if it never happened. In the law of England and Wales, it must be first proven that the marriage was not legally valid. There are three criteria for this and one of them must be met:
- You are closely related to the person whom you have married,
- One of you is under the age of 16 or
- One of you is currently in a civil partnership.
If the marriage was not legally valid, it is void and you are treated as never having being married at all. Simple isn’t it? Well, not really, this is only one part of the annulment process, if you cannot prove that your marriage was not legally valid you must prove that your marriage is “voidable” and meets the following specific criteria:
- It wasn’t consummated,
- You didn’t properly consent to the marriage (as in the case of Britney Spears — intoxication does not provide for a proper consent)
- The other person had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married
- The woman was pregnant by another man when you got married.
While annulments are a legal alternative to divorce, they are actually available to very few couples because the specific criteria are so strict.
There are religious sections within society which see annulments as the only option out of a bad marriage because, as is the case with the Roman Catholic Church, divorce is not an option. Pope Francis has recently stated that he wishes for the requirement for an annulment within the church to change in some specific cases. Many believers of the Catholic faith will not divorce because it is not condoned by the church or their religious teachings and they have to petition the church for the rights to have an annulment. A religious annulment is separate from a legal annulment.
Many people think of annulments as a quick and easy alternative to divorce. However, they most certainly are not: annulments can take longer than a typical divorce, specialist legal or evidential advice may be needed. As an annulment can be filed at any time after the wedding, this can mean years later on in the marriage, this is where things tend to get more complicated, especially if children are involved. When property is an issue the courts may try to determine the original purpose of the property, where there are children involved an award of alimony and child support could be temporarily granted. Remember that with any nullification of marriages, there are different circumstances in each case and some cases will be more complicated than others.
If you are considering a divorce or wondering if your marriage is eligible for an annulment, call our experienced team of Family Law solicitors for expert advice now.
by Eni Hanxhari
Eni is a guest blogger for Grayfords. Eni is originally from Canada. She is a second year Graduate Entry Law Student at City University London. She has a BA Degree Politics and History.