There are times when a divorce may not be the appropriate way to bring a marriage to an end and you may be entitled to an alternative method of ending a marriage. I have had clients who inform me that there were unusual circumstances when their marriage took place or that there are certain issues that have arisen which mean they are entitled to a nullity – an annulment of the marriage.
What is an annulment?
Annulment is another way to end a marriage. The other option is divorce.
Why would I apply for a nullity?
The granting of an annulment makes a marriage null and void. Once an annulment has been granted, it is as if the marriage never existed. You would be free to marry another person. The circumstances that apply for you to be entitled to an annulment are limited and explored below.
When can I apply?
One key difference between annulments and divorce is that you can apply for an annulment at any time after the marriage takes place rather than have to wait a year as you do with to apply for a divorce. Difficulties can arise if you apply to annul a marriage a long time after the marriage but if you think this may be a concern you should seek advice particular to your situation from a specialist family lawyer.
Do I qualify for an annulment?
To qualify for an annulment you must demonstrate that the marriage is Void or Voidable. In other words that the marriage was not legally ‘valid’ when it took place or that the marriage is ‘defective’.
A marriage would be void for the following reasons:
- You are closely related;
- One or both of you were under 16 at the time of the marriage;
- One of you was already married or in a civil partnership, at the time the marriage took place.
A marriage would be voidable for the following reasons:
- The marriage was never consummated – i.e. you have not had sex with the person you married since the wedding (this can be quite difficult to prove and cannot be relied upon in same sex relationships);
- You did not properly consent to the marriage – for example you were drunk or forced into the marriage;
- Your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married and you were not aware of this;
- In heterosexual relationships, the woman was pregnant with another man’s baby at the time of the marriage.
How do I apply for an annulment?
The procedure to annul a marriage is very similar to the procedure for divorce.
You would send a Nullity petition to the Family Court. The spouse who issues the petition will be referred to as the Petitioner. There is a court fee, which at the time of writing is £550.
Once the petition for nullity is issued it is to be served on the respondent (the spouse receiving the petition), along with an Acknowledgement of Service form. The Respondent has 7 days to return the acknowledgement of service, confirming they received the petition and setting out whether they intend to defend the nullity or not.
If the petition is not defended then the Petitioner can apply for Decree Nisi. The application is placed before a District Judge who will decide whether the petition is proved. If the District Judge is satisfied that the petition is proved he or she will sign a certificate stating the date on which Decree Nisi will be pronounced. Once pronounced, the Court will send a copy of Decree Nisi to the Petitioner’s solicitors and the Respondent. As the Decree Nisi is the first stage of the annulment, you’ll remain married until the divorce has been finalised. Six weeks after decree nisi pronounced you can apply for a Decree of Nullity. This is the final stage of the divorce and once it is granted by the Court your annulment is finalised.
Can I still make a claim for financial remedy if my marriage is annulled?
Yes. The court has the power to determine financial remedy claims in the same way they would for a divorce.
What if my spouse contests the petition for Nullity?
This does happen and it can be very complex to deal with a contested annulment, similar to a contested divorce. It is important to speak to an experienced and specialist family lawyer about your options and the legal ramifications.