We provide expert advice on the appropriate steps towards an annulment.
Like a divorce, an annulment will end a marriage, however, it is only available in a very small number of cases. An annulment can occur at any time after the marriage as there is no minimum time period before an application can be submitted. If you think you may require an annulment, we can advise you on the grounds for annulment and whether they apply to your own situation. Along with annulment you can also apply to court for an order relating to children or finances, just like you would in a divorce.
What is an annulment?
An annulment is a declaration that a marriage or civil partnership was never in fact legally valid or that it became invalid. It can erase a marriage as though it never existed.
A marriage or civil partnership can be annulled at any time after the ceremony – this is unlike a divorce or dissolution where there is a one year minimum waiting period before proceedings can commence. The court may require an explanation if an annulment is applied for years after the ceremony.
To annul a marriage or partnership, spouses must satisfy the court that it has jurisdiction to deal with the matter, most commonly because the parties (or at least one of them) live in England and Wales.
There are differences in terms of annulment for heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Heterosexual relationships can be annulled on the basis of incapacity of either party to consummate the marriage, but this is not the case with same-sex relationships.
There are two potential types of annulment in England & Wales, void ab initio – completely invalid from the outset and as if the marriage never took place, and voidable – potentially invalid but in force until a Decree of Nullity is obtained from the Court.
Void or Voidable?
There are two types of annulment available – one for void marriages and one for voidable marriages.
‘Void’ means that your marriage was never legally allowed from the beginning and after the annulment, it is as if it never took place. Reasons for a void marriage include:
- The parties being related to one another closer than the law allows
- One of the parties being underage
- One of the parties already being in a marriage or civil partnership
A marriage is ‘voidable’ in circumstances where there is some kind of defect in the eyes of the law, for example:
- The marriage was never consummated (i.e. you did not have sex after the marriage took place)
- There was no proper consent to marry (i.e. you were forced into it or were drunk)
- One of you had a sexually transmitted disease or was pregnant by someone else at the time you got married
Although slightly different grounds apply, a civil partnership can also be annulled by a court.