While it is often presumed that the only way to legally end a marriage is through divorce, this is not necessarily the case. If you have reason to assume that your marriage is not legally valid and have solid evidence to support your claim, it may be possible to annul your marriage.
There are many reasons why an individual may choose to annul their marriage in comparison to getting a divorce, for example if they have a religious belief. It is, however, important to note that not all marriages are eligible for annulment, and in many cases, annulment can be difficult to prove.
In this article, we advise on when you can annul a marriage, in addition to looking at the difference between divorce and annulment, what the grounds for annulment are, the process of annulling a marriage, and whether a solicitor is required to annul a marriage.
When can a marriage be annulled?
Simply speaking, a marriage can be annulled at any point, unlike a divorce, which can only be applied for once you and your spouse have been married for at least a year.
However, the longer you wait to have your marriage annulled, the more challenging it becomes to annul a marriage. The court are less likely to accept the request for annulment after a significant period of time in some circumstances, instead requiring those seeking annulment to apply for divorce.
What is the difference between divorce and annulment?
Divorce and annulment are similar in certain aspects, with both dissolving a marriage. It is however important to note that they are two different legal processes.
Divorce is the process of the court officially bringing a valid marriage to an end, should the parties no longer recognise themselves as a couple. In comparison, annulment is where the court determines that a marriage was never legal to begin with, classing it as void or invalid.
Some other differences between both divorce and annulment are that for a married couple to obtain a divorce, they must have been married for a minimum of a year before applying to divorce. In cases where the marriage is considered not legally valid or defective, there is no minimum term.
Married couples are also required to state the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (previously supported by five facts) before the court will approve the conditional order. While annulment does not require this statement, the court often need proof of the void marriage, and this is often shown by one of two grounds for annulment.
What are the grounds for annulment of a marriage?
Should you suspect your marriage to be void and wish to annul a marriage in the UK, there are only two legal grounds for annulling a marriage. These are defined in section 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and are:
- The marriage was never legally valid, or
- The marriage was legally valid, but it can be proven voidable, sometimes referred to as defective
Examples of where a marriage can be considered as never being legally valid include:
- You and your spouse are closely related
- Either spouse was under the legal marriage age of 16 when marrying (the legal age to get married is due to change to 18 from 27 February 2023)
- Either spouse was already married or in a civil partnership
A marriage can be considered defective and voidable in the eyes of the law, even where the marriage was entered legally. Examples of a defective marriage include:
- The married party did not consummate, for example, the married couple did not have sexual intercourse since the marriage ceremony (this only applies to heterosexual couples)
- If either of the party did not consent to the marriage, examples include if either party was drunk or coerced into marriage
- If either spouse had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) when marrying
- If your spouse was pregnant with another person’s child when marrying
- If your spouse is currently undergoing gender reassignment
How to annul a marriage
The process of annulling a marriage in the UK depends on the circumstances and grounds of the annulment. It is a relatively similar process to that of applying for a divorce, except the grounds and requirements are entirely different.
Whether you apply for an annulment to consider your marriage not legally valid or void, the process will involve the applicant applying to the court for the annulment of marriage, by filling out a nullity petition.
The court will require two copies of the nullity petition to be sent directly to them, and another copy of the petition will need to be served to your spouse, either by yourself or done by a process server. Your spouse will need to submit a response to the court within 8 days of receipt, where they will either accept or dispute the request for annulment.
If your spouse agrees to the annulment, you will need to apply for a conditional order (previously decree nisi), and 6 weeks and 1 day later apply for a final order (previously decree absolute), sometimes referred to as a nullity of marriage order.
Should your spouse dispute the request for annulment, it will be further escalated to court, where a judge will make the final decision based on the presented arguments and supporting facts.
Similar to applying for a divorce, there is an annulment fee of £593, which must be submitted when filing the petition with the court.
Do you need a solicitor to annul a marriage?
There is no requirement for individuals to seek legal advice from a solicitor during the process of annulment, it is, however, highly recommended. The process of annulment can often be complex, time-consuming, and stressful,.
Consulting with a solicitor can provide invaluable. They will be able to advise on the criteria for annulment and based on your circumstances, advise if annulment is the best course of action.
Speak to our annulment specialists in Bristol, Bath and Bradford on Avon
For pragmatic, constructive, and sensible advice on annulling a marriage, please contact your local team in Bristol, Bath and Bradford on Avon.