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What Exactly Is Annulment?

When a marriage sadly fails, divorce is commonly the result. The marriage is dissolved following a petition for divorce and the granting of a decree absolute, the final legal order officially ending the marriage, enabling either party to remarry.

07 November 2016
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But divorce is not the only way to end a marriage. Following a petition for nullity and the awarding of a decree of nullity, a marriage can also be annulled.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between divorce and annulment is that you can only get a divorce if you have been married at least a year (and your relationship has permanently failed), whereas a marriage can be annulled at any time after the wedding.

Just as a reason must be given for wanting a divorce, you must provide a reason for wishing to annul your marriage. Two basic reasons exist – that your marriage was never legally valid in the first place, which is known as a ‘void’ marriage, or that your marriage is inherently defective, known as a ‘voidable’ marriage.

A marriage might be ‘void’, for example, because you and your spouse are closely related; because one of you was under the age of 16 at the time of the wedding; or because one of you was already married or in a civil partnership at the time of the wedding. A ‘void’ marriage never legally existed, although paperwork proving the annulment might be necessary should you wish to marry in the future.

Your marriage is ‘voidable’ if you have never consummated the relationship (meaning you have not had sex with your spouse since the wedding). However, this reason for annulling a marriage does not apply for same-sex couples. (In a similar vein, adultery can only apply as a reason for divorce when a spouse has sex with a member of the opposite sex. Even if you are in a same-sex marriage, sex with someone else of the same gender does not count as adultery.) Other reasons for a marriage being ‘voidable’ include the fact you did not properly consent to the marriage (for example, if you were drunk at the time of the wedding, were suffering mental health problems and so did not understand the situation, or were forced to marry); the fact your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease when you married; and the fact your wife was pregnant by another man at the time of the wedding.

Filing a nullity petition form currently costs £550. If you are receiving state benefits or live on a low income, you might be able to receive state financial support to help pay your court fees.

The annulment process is naturally smoothest if you and your spouse agree your marriage should be annulled. Ultimately, if that is the case, and if the court shares your view and can find no reason why the marriage cannot be annulled, you will be sent a decree of nullity (also known as a decree absolute, as with a divorce), confirming you are no longer married.

Let’s hope you never have to go through a divorce or annulment. If, however, you do find yourself in one of these sad situations, following the correct legal processes will give you the best chance of moving forward to a successful new life.