Annulment

There are two ways to dissolve a marriage. The most common is divorce but it is also possible to get an annulment under specific circumstances. This guide answers many of the questions relating to annulment, including what circumstances qualify you for annulment, why choose annulment, what the process is and how it affects children.


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What is annulment?

With an annulment the marriage is declared nullified and is treated as if it never existed. There are two types of annulment:

  • Void marriages – the marriage was not legal in the first place
  • Voidable marriages – the marriage is legally valid until it is annulled (on the grounds of the marriage never being consummated, for example)

How is annulment different from divorce?

A divorce signals the end of a marriage. Both parties consider themselves to have been married and legally they are considered previously married. Individuals who have had their marriage annulled can consider themselves to have never been married.

The following points mark some of the key differences between divorce and annulment:

  • The grounds for filing for annulment are different to those for divorce. In divorce for example, if the cited reason for divorce is ‘unreasonable behaviour’ this behaviour only needs to be defined in very loose terms, such as a spouse being overly focused on their career.
  • Annulment requires a degree of proof that filing for divorce does not typically ask for. For example, there is no need to prove adultery when divorcing, if the other party agrees.
  • An annulment can be sought immediately after marriage whereas divorce proceedings cannot be started until married for one year.
  • Annulments commonly occur soon after marriage (on the grounds of non-consummation, for example) while divorces can obviously take place many years later.

What qualifies me for an annulment (what grounds can you get annulled)? In short, the marriage must be either ‘void’ or ‘voidable’.

Void marriage

A marriage is considered void if it was never legal in the first place. Void marriages include:

  • Where the parties were closely related.
  • Where one (or both) parties were under 16 at the time of the marriage.
  • Where one (or both) parties was already married or in a civil partnership.
  • Where the legal requirements for the ceremony were not followed (including not using a licensed premises)

If a marriage was not legal, then the law says it never existed, but you may still need to get legal paperwork to confirm this should you want to get married in the future.

Voidable marriage

A marriage is voidable if:

  • It has never been consummated (there has never been sexual intercourse between the parties) – this rule does not apply for same-sex couples.
  • One or both parties did not properly consent (they were under the influence of drugs, or were forced into it, for example).
  • One of the parties had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the marriage.
  • The woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage.
  • An interim gender recognition certificate has been issued to either party to the marriage after the time of the marriage.
  • One of the party’s gender at the time of the marriage is no longer their affirmed gender.

If your marriage is voidable, you can apply for an annulment.

How long after the marriage can it be annulled?

Annulments are usually applied for soon after the marriage. Unlike a divorce, where you must wait a full year before applying, an annulment can be sought immediately following the marriage.

In the case of gender reassignment, there is a period of six months allowed from the date of a gender recognition certificate.

If you are wanting to apply for an annulment years after the marriage, you will be expected to provide good reasons for the delay.

Why choose annulment over divorce?

Annulment is for those situations where it is important to you that the marriage never happened. This can be because it was a traumatic situation forced upon you, or for religious reasons regarding future marriage.

It should be noted that in these latter cases, there is a difference between a legal annulment as described here, and an annulment in the Catholic Church.

Because a divorce cannot be applied for within the first year of marriage, those needing to undo their marriage sooner may turn to annulment. It is not a ‘quick fix’ for a marriage in trouble during the early days, however, and there must be a legal reason as detailed earlier in this article for applying for annulment.

How much does an annulment cost?

Simply filing a nullify petition to the court (the minimum needed) currently costs £550.

If there are complications (for example, the other party doesn’t agree to the annulment), then the petition may need to be settled between solicitors or even go to court. Read more about legal costs.

What is the process for annulment?

Entering into an annulment process is the same as that for divorce. A petition for annulment is served on the respondent and they must declare whether they intend to defend the annulment process (i.e. they believe the marriage to be valid and so wish to contest the annulment). If they do, the court will make directions accordingly.

If an annulment is sought due to non-consummation of a marriage, the court may require medical examination. Should that examination prove consummation, the annulment cannot proceed.

If the respondent agrees with the annulment and chooses not to defended it, then it will progress similarly to a divorce until the decree absolute or ‘decree of nullity’ is pronounced.

If the respondent is likely to contest an annulment, then divorce proceedings may be preferable.

How likely is annulment?

If your marriage falls under the definitions of void or voidable as described earlier in this article, and it is within the first three years of the marriage, then an annulment is possible. In circumstances where the marriage is easily proven to be void (for example the marriage ceremony was not legal, or a spouse was under the age of 16) the procedure for nullity should be straightforward.

If it is likely to be difficult to prove that the marriage is voidable (for example, that you did not give consent to the marriage) or you believe it will be contested by the other party, then you should consult legal advice to understand your options.


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What are the advantages and disadvantages of annulment?

In many cases, the spouse seeking annulment wants to, in every way they can, disassociate themselves from a marriage they regret entering. Doing so by divorcing leaves a history behind them that they will be forever connected to – of an ‘ex-husband’ or ‘ex-wife’ and of them being a ‘divorcee’. Annulment offers the advantage of rewinding the clock so they can legally and emotionally start afresh.

However, the process of annulment can sometimes be a more difficult than divorce. If the annulment is contested, the petitioning spouse may have to undergo the process of proving that the marriage is voidable – not something a spouse would have to do if petitioning to divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, for example.

There is also a myth that if the marriage is annulled, there can be no financial settlement. In fact, a financial settlement following an annulment can be brought successfully to court.

There is no legal advantage or disadvantage to either divorce or annulment over the other.

Can I make a claim for financial settlement in an annulment?

Yes. However, in most cases an annulment is granted soon after the marriage takes place so the division of assets is likely to return both parties to the financial positions they were in before they married.

Does annulment apply to civil partnerships and same-sex marriage?

With two exceptions, annulment is an equal option in both civil partnerships and same-sex marriages.

Those exceptions are:

  • Same-sex marriages and civil partnerships cannot utilise the ‘non-consummation’ rule for applying for an annulment.
  • Civil partnerships cannot apply the rule regarding sexually transmitted diseases as a reason for annulment.

Can my spouse contest annulment?

Yes. If your spouse believes that the marriage is valid, then they can contest the annulment and defend the marriage in court.

Can an annulment be reversed?

No. Once an annulment is finalised, it is as if the marriage never happened and cannot be reversed.

If there is a desire by both parties to ‘undo’ an annulment, then they are free to marry each other.

Am I entitled to the same financial settlement with annulment as divorce?

Yes. You can apply for a financial settlement and any appropriate child maintenance as part of your annulment in a similar way to a divorce. However, in most cases an annulment is granted soon after the marriage takes place so the division of assets is likely to return both parties to the financial positions they were in before they married.

What is a ‘void’ marriage? How is it different to a voidable marriage?

A void marriage is one which was never legal. It differs from a voidable marriage in that legally there was never a marriage there in the first place.

While there is no legal requirement to apply for an annulment in the case of a void marriage, the legal paperwork may be of help, especially if seeking a financial settlement as part of the proceedings.

The section earlier in this article titled ‘What qualifies me for an annulment?’ defines the situations that constitute a void or voidable marriage.

What is an annulment in the Catholic church? Is this the same as a legal annulment?

The Catholic church considers marriage at a different level to the requirements that form a legal marriage in the United Kingdom. To this end, a legal annulment is not the same as an annulment in the eyes of the Catholic church although the reasons they can be brought are similar.

For those in the religion, it may be important to apply for a church annulment in addition to a legal one. This involves appealing to the local church Tribunal and going through a lengthy process of discussion and understanding that is not dissimilar to a level of counselling.

Does getting an annulment affect my children’s legitimacy?

No. Prior to 1949, children of an annulled marriage were often considered illegitimate as a consequence (despite having lived potentially years as a legitimate child). However, the law was changed in that year to ensure that the legitimacy of children was left unchanged in all cases of annulled marriages, whether from being void or voidable.

Similarly, the Catholic church agrees that the legitimacy of children is not affected by annulment.


Do you need help with your divorce?

Get in touch now with one of our panel of specialist local family solicitors.

If relevant, please include below the name of the other party (so the solicitor can check they have not already provided advice to your partner):

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