Is a Sexless Marriage Grounds for Divorce?

For those living in sexless marriages, the comforting news (possibly) is that you are not alone. In the most recent survey into such relationships, conducted by Gransnet and Mumsnet in association with Relate, revealed over 29% are currently in sexless relationships. The official definition of a sexless relationship is “no sex at all in the past year” or a low sex relationship is “fewer than ten times in the past year.”


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Age appears to play a big role, with numbers saying they are in sexless relationships increasing steadily as they get older, with the percentage reaching a staggering 47% for those aged 60 or older. However, problems within relationships usually arise when one party wants sex, but the other doesn’t.

The first thing you probably need to consider when deciding whether to start divorce proceedings because of the lack of sex or intimacy is whether or not your spouse matters to you. Ask yourself whether this is otherwise a satisfying partnership. It would appear from the survey that both men and women are quietly miserable about the situation without quite knowing what to do to resolve it. According to statistics, people in sexually unfulfilling relationships wait an average of six years before seeking professional help, whether that is counselling to get things back on track or a divorce lawyer.

Is consummation necessary for a legal marriage?

Consummating a marriage has traditionally been a vital part of the wedding ceremony and historically, the families of newly married couples even taking steps to make sure the marriage had, in fact, been consummated. But what does ‘consummation’ mean today? Legally, consummation is required to be ‘ordinary and complete’ and there is a raft of case law to clarify the issues.

In England and Wales, under section 12 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, any refusal or inability to consummate a marriage is a ground for annulment. It should be noted that consummation only applies to opposite sex couples. Paragraph 4, Schedule 4 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, specifically excludes non-consummation as a ground for annulment of a same sex marriage. Your marriage is likely to be ‘voidable’ if it has not been consummated and you can therefore apply for the marriage to be annulled.

The difference between void and voidable marriages

If you do not believe your marriage or civil partnership is legal, you can ask the court to end it. This is called an annulment (also referred to as nullity). If the court decides you are entitled to an annulment, they will look at your case and determine whether your marriage is either:

  • Void – meaning the marriage or civil partnership never legally prevailed (it was never legally valid)
  • Voidable – meaning the marriage or civil partnership was was legally valid when entered into but is not legal any longer

Reasons for getting an annulment include not having had sexual intercourse with your spouse since you got married. As with divorce, your marriage exists legally until you annul it.

Do I have to wait for a year after the marriage to get an annulment?

If a couple does not have sexual intercourse after the marriage has taken place, either spouse may apply for a divorce or annulment of the marriage at any time. Whilst a divorce ends a legal marriage, an annulment means the marriage never existed and since these marriages were never valid, you can usually annul them at any point in time and do not have to wait the requisite year as you would have to do for divorce.

Grounds for applying for an annulment of marriage

As stated above, unlike divorce, you can apply for an annulment in the first year of marriage (or any time thereafter). Although if you apply for an annulment many years after the wedding, you will probably be asked by the court to explain the reasons for the delay.

To annul a marriage you will need to complete a nullity application form (Form D8N) which can be found on the gov.uk website. At the time of writing, a nullity application costs £593, although you may be able to get help with court fees if you are in receipt of certain benefits or have a low income. After applying for an annulment, the court will send you a notice that your application has been issued.

The other person must reply to your annulment application within 14 days and state whether they agree the marriage should be annulled. After they have replied, you can make an application for a conditional order which confirms that the court does not see any reason why your marriage or civil partnership cannot be annulled. Six weeks after obtaining the conditional order, you can apply for a final order. This is the final legal document which states that the marriage or civil partnership has been annulled.

If the court is happy, it will send you a ‘nullity of marriage order’ which confirms you are no longer married. If your marriage was never legally valid (void), the order will affirm you were never legally married. The process, if not challenged, will take at least 26 weeks.

Financial settlement following an annulment of marriage

In England and Wales, an annulment of a marriage or civil partnership in itself does not put an end to the financial relationship between you and your spouse. Financial settlement is an arrangement where a couple’s assets and finances are separated when their marriage or civil partnership ends.

Getting a financial settlement when you are annulling your marriage or civil partnership is vital because outstanding financial claims may return to disrupt your lives many years after the annulment has been granted. This is because even when your marriage or civil partnership is annulled, you still keep the legal right to make financial claims against your ex-spouse and vice versa, until you remarry. There is otherwise no time limit for making these claims. This is why it is so important to put your financial affairs in order and obtain a binding court order, setting out the financial arrangements with your ex-spouse.

Grounds for divorce

In England and Wales, there is no requirement for either spouse to prove that the couple are no longer intimate – there are no ‘grounds’ to cite in order be get divorced. Either (or both) spouses simply need to state that the relationship has broken down irretrievably and in almost all cases, this is sufficient for the divorce to take place. Read more about divorce grounds.


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