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Annulment vs divorce: What’s the difference?

By , on Wednesday January 10, 2024 at 1:51 pm

There are many reasons why couples tend to view annulment as the preferred option when compared to divorce. This includes situations where there are religious or cultural reasons for not wanting a divorce, where a couple have not been married for 12 months and are unable to legally divorce, or because they believe the process would be easier and cheaper than divorce.

However, it is a mistaken belief that annulment is straightforward. The grounds for obtaining an annulment are stringent and often difficult to prove. This means that annulment may not be a viable option for every couple.

Divorce and annulment are two processes our expert team of family law specialists can provide comprehensive guidance on, including advising on which is likely to be the best option for your case.

Why are divorce and annulment two different things?

In summary, divorce is the legal process for ending a marriage, while an annulment is used to declare that a marriage was never legally valid or should be declared invalid for a specific reason. After an annulment of a marriage takes place, it will be as if the couple were never married in the first place.

What are the legal grounds for divorces and annulments?

The grounds used to determine whether it is possible to get a divorce and annulment vary.


The rules concerning divorce in England and Wales changed in 2022 with the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

Since the Act was put into effect, divorcing couples simply need to provide a statement that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They do not need to provide a reason or any evidence for the breakdown of the relationship.

The other condition that married couples need to be aware of regarding divorce is that they must have been married for over a year before they are able to start an application.


In England and Wales, annulment can fall into one of two categories:

  1. Marriages that are void
  2. Marriages that are voidable

Void marriages are not considered to be legally valid. A marriage may be void if:

  • One partner was already married or in a civil partnership
  • The couple are closely related
  • One or both partners were under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage

A voidable marriage in England and Wales is considered to be legally valid, but meets one or more of the following grounds:

  • The marriage was not consummated owing to the incapacity of either party
  • The marriage was not consummated owing to the wilful refusal of either party
  • Either party did not validly consent to the marriage (through duress, mistake, incapacity or otherwise)
  • At the time of the marriage, either party was suffering from a mental disorder
  • At the time of the marriage, either party was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease
  • At the time of the marriage, one party was pregnant with another person’s child
  • An interim gender recognition certificate has been granted to either party in the preceding 6 months
  • One party is a person whose gender at the time of the marriage had been acquired under the Gender Recognition Act

While the conditions for a voidable marriage appear to be relatively straightforward, more will need to be established before the courts are willing to grant an annulment.

This highlights the fact that the grounds required for an annulment are generally far stricter than for divorce.

How do the processes for divorce and annulment differ?

The respective processes for an annulment vs divorce are as follows:


The process for divorce applications was updated in April 2022 with the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

The first step when applying for a divorce is to file a divorce application which contains the details of both parties, in addition to a statement of ‘irretrievable breakdown’. This is a declaration that the marriage has broken down without any chance of reconciliation. An application for divorce is made online, as opposed to annulment which is not.

One partner can make a sole application, or both partners can make a joint application. If a sole application is made, the Court will issue the application and send it to the other party (the respondent), who will then be required to provide an Acknowledgement of Service form within 14 days.

If the Court is satisfied on application, it will set a date for the Conditional Order to be pronounced. There is a minimum time of 20 weeks between the initial application and the Conditional Order being pronounced.

Six weeks after the Conditional Order has been pronounced, the applicant(s) can then apply for a Final Order. When granted, this finalises the divorce.

This deals with the formality of divorce only. Couples will need to make other arrangements, such as those concerning their finances, separately. More on how Woolley & Co can help with a financial settlement.


If a marriage can or should be annulled, then you will need to make an application to the court requesting the annulment.

An annulment application is submitted to the Court along with any supporting documents. The other party will have a window of 14 days to respond to this application.

If there are no objections, it will then be possible to apply for a Conditional Order. If the Court is satisfied the annulment should be granted, it will grant the Conditional Order.

After six weeks, it is then possible to apply for a Final Order which declares that the marriage has never legally existed.

How do annulments and divorces deal with children?

During both divorce and  annulment processes, both parents will have the opportunity to come to a voluntary agreement in relation to where their child will live, how they are brought up and when they will spend time with each of their parents. If it is not possible to come to an agreement, an application for a court order can be made.

Regardless of whether child arrangements are being made in the wake of a divorce or annulment, the primary objective will always be to put the welfare of the children above anything else. This is something our team can advise on in detail where required.

Find out more about how our family solicitors can support parents during divorces, annulments and separations here.

Is an annulment easier than a divorce?

While the circumstances of every relationship and separation vary, an annulment will generally be a more difficult process compared to divorce. The statistics for UK divorces and annulments support this, with the most recent report from ONS indicating that there were 111,934 opposite-sex divorces in 2021 compared to 231 annulments.

As we have discussed, the grounds for annulments are very strict and are unlikely to apply to every couple, which means that it is not necessarily a viable option in many cases. Before you even consider starting the annulment process, you are likely to need advice from a specialist family law solicitor before you can make an application.

In both cases, the processes for annulment versus divorce require the approval of the Court. You will need to determine whether it would be in your best interests to apply for an annulment or wait until 12 months has passed to make a divorce application. This is something our expert team will be able to support you with, advising on the best approach to take for your circumstances.

For a free 30-minute initial chat with one of our divorce solicitors, call Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.

Our solicitors are here for you

We know that deciding whether an annulment or divorce is the best option for ending your relationship can be incredibly difficult and often confusing. Our family law solicitors are here to guide you further and answer any questions you might have.

At Woolley & Co, Solicitors, our team are all experienced and compassionate professionals, who will do their best to support you through what is surely already a difficult time.

Whether you are seeking an annulment or divorce, our expert family law solicitors will do their utmost to make the process as stress-free and efficient as we can, so you can have the clarity you need to start the next chapter of your life. We will make sure you are fully informed of every option available to you and will keep you up-to-date with any changes that might occur during the process.

To take advantage of your free 30-minute consultation with an expert local family law solicitor, call 0800 321 3832 or complete our quick online form.

Andrew Robotham
Family lawyer Derby

Blog Author - Andrew Robotham

Andrew RobothamAndrew Robotham

Andy is an experienced divorce and family lawyer with Woolley & Co, Solicitors. He has built an enviable reputation in the Derbyshire and Leicestershire area.


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