You can ask our online solicitors for advice on marriage annulments using the question box on the front of our website or the following free legal advice guide may answer your questions.
A marriage can break down for a number of different reasons. When it does and a reconciliation is not possible, a couple may decide to end the marriage. There are two ways that this can be achieved, either a divorce or an annulment.
Divorce and annulment are two very different things so it’s important to differentiate between the two so you know which one applies.
An annulment is granted by the court who recognises that a marriage is either legally invalid or it was void from a legal perspective from the start. A marriage annulment however is not an alternative to a divorce. There must be valid grounds that must be submitted to the court and these are significantly different from divorce criteria.
A marriage annulment can be requested and granted for many things. That said, there are certain criteria that must be fulfilled if your marriage is to be deemed as ‘void’ from the outset. Acceptable criteria include:
- At the time of the marriage, you or your partner were under the age of 16
- At the time of the marriage, you or your partner was legally married or in a civil partnership with another person
- Your partner is closely related to you such as a child, stepchild, grandchild, nephew or niece
Where a marriage takes place in any of the above situations, the marriage is not legally valid. An application for an annulment will allow you to obtain the necessary paperwork to avoid issues occurring in the future if you decide to remarry or if any disputes relating to the marriage arise.
As well as the above criteria, there are also other grounds that can invalidate a marriage and deem it to be automatically void. The next set of criteria are those that fall into the voidable grounds category and can include:
- At the time of the marriage, you did not consent. The issue of consent is complex. If you were drunk at the time of the marriage or under the influence of drugs or you were forced into the marriage, this is not consent.
- The marriage has not been consummated which means that you have not had sex with your partner. This criteria does not apply to civil partnerships between same sex couples.
- The wife of the married couple was pregnant at the time of the marriage but the father was not the spouse
- You or your partner suffered from a mental disorder at the time of the marriage
- At the time of the marriage, one partner had a sexually transmitted disease
- Your partner had a sex change that you didn’t know about before the marriage, or they have had a sex change after the marriage.
Where any of these criteria apply, the marriage can be deemed as ‘voidable’. That said, the marriage will remain legally valid until an annulment has been granted by the court.
The process that you must follow to obtain an annulment is similar to that of a divorce or dissolution with some key differences. When you request a divorce, you will need to file what is known as a petition for divorce. In relation to an annulment you must obtain a Nullity Petition.
Where there is agreement by both parties that the marriage should be annulled, and you fit the criteria, you must apply for a decree nisi before obtaining a decree of nullity. The process will take between six and eight months to finalise.
When you apply for a divorce, you must have been married for a period of 12 months before you can request a divorce. An annulment by contrast can be requested anytime from the date of the marriage. There is no minimum period but an annulment must be made within a reasonable timeframe.
In the majority of cases this will be within three years of the marriage.
If there is some disagreement over the annulment or your spouse refuses to get the marriage annulled, the process can be extremely lengthy, difficult and expensive. There are some cases where an objection to the annulment can be made by a third party. Where this applies, it is crucial that you obtain legal advice from an experienced family law solicitor as additional evidence will need to be gathered and presented to the court.