What is a marriage annulment?
An annulment is a way of ending a marriage, available in limited circumstances, other than by obtaining a divorce. It is a legal procedure which effectively cancels a marriage so that it is as though it never existed as a valid marriage.
On what grounds can a marriage be annulled?
Marriages can only be annulled if they are found to be void or voidable.
Void marriage definition
A void marriage is one which does not comply with the legal requirements for a valid marriage in the jurisdiction that it took place. A void marriage is treated by the law as if it never existed because there was a defect with the legalities. A marriage is void if one of the following circumstances applies:
- either party was already married or in a civil partnership at the time of the marriage;
- either party was under the age of 16 at the time of marriage; or
- the parties are closely related (for example, they are siblings or have a parent-child relationship).
Once one of above grounds is established, the marriage is automatically annulled and a Decree of Nullity confirms this.
Voidable marriage definition
A voidable marriage is one that complies with the legal requirements in the jurisdiction that it took place but can be ended by one of the parties for various reasons including:
- one party didn’t consent to the marriage due to duress, mistake or lack of mental capacity;
- the marriage was not consummated due to incapacity or wilful refusal by either party;
- either party had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the marriage; or
- the female party was pregnant by someone else at the time of marriage or
- either party is in the process of transitioning to a different gender.
Until the Decree of Nullity is obtained from the court, the marriage is legal and valid.
In order to apply for an annulment, the same jurisdictional requirements will need to be met as if you are applying for a divorce.
When to apply for an annulment
You can apply for an annulment at any time following the marriage. You don’t have to have been married for a year, unlike divorce, to obtain a Decree of Nullity.
If a significant period of time has elapsed since the marriage then you may need to explain the delay in applying for an annulment so it is best practice to apply as soon as possible after you realise that your marriage is void or voidable.
Can I claim financial relief on the annulment of marriage?
Yes. The process is the same as if you were applying for a divorce so you would need to lodge an application to the court for a financial order once your Nullity Petition has been issued.
How to apply for annulment of marriage
You will need to lodge a Nullity Petition in form D8N with the court enclosing the marriage certificate and arranging for payment of the £550 court fee.
The court then deal with the Petition in the same way as they would for a divorce petition. The process following issue of the Nullity Petition is therefore:
- The Respondent is to file an Acknowledgement of Service within 7 working days.
- If the Respondent does not defend the proceedings, the Applicant can apply to the court for Decree Nisi.
- Once Decree Nisi is obtained, the Applicant can then apply to the court for a Decree of Nullity once 6 weeks and 1 day have elapsed.
A Decree of Nullity is a legal declaration of the court that the marriage is not valid and confirms that it never actually existed. Once the Decree of Nullity is granted by the court, the parties are no longer considered married.
In the future, you may need the Decree of Nullity as proof of your marital status, for example, if you wish to marry.