It is unfortunate but this scenario is becoming increasingly common in the UK, leaving hundreds of women feeling trapped in a marriage. But there are ways to help.
The first question I ask anyone who comes to me saying they are in this situation is: “How were you forced?” Often the shocking answer is that many families still feel honour, pride and family unity are more important than the happiness, welfare and emotional well being of their child.
“I was told I was going on holiday to Bangladesh to see my grandparents and then when I got there I realised that there was a wedding taking place… mine”
“My parents found out I was going out with a boy from school. They took me to Pakistan and made me marry my cousin. I was told that if I didn’t, they would kill me”.
One in every three British Asians knows at least one other who was “forced” into a marriage by their family. Girls as young as 12 are forced to enter into marriages against their will.
A forced marriage must not be linked to an arranged one, which is very different and, to those in the Asian world forms part of one’s tradition, family culture and values. “A marriage is the union of two households, not just two beings”. This is the underlying philosophy of arranged marriages and one which is said to contribute to the many successful unions that exist today.
What must not be tolerated are young men and women, and sometimes children, being forced by their parents to get married. The result for some is an unhappy, abusive and depressing marriage.
For others, who refuse to give up their life for their parent’s cultural religious or traditional values, it is a case of seeking legal advice and putting an end to the marriage that took place.
The definition of a forced marriage is: “A person (A) is forced into marriage if another (B) forces (A) to enter into that marriage (whether with B or another person) without A’s free will and consent” Force includes coercion by threats or other psychological means.
Essentially, if one person is forced by anyone to get married by force, threats or emotional blackmail and that person enters into the marriage for those reasons, the marriage is said to be forced.
Terminating such a marriage can be done in one of two ways – either seeking an annulment or divorce.
It does not matter if the marriage was in the UK or abroad, as most marriages abroad are considered valid in the UK, provided the marriage was conducted in accordance with the law of that country.
An annulment essentially recognises that your marriage was not valid and therefore did not exist. The effect is that you regain your “single” marital status and do not then need a divorce.
Under the law, if you did not validly consent to a divorce, whether in consequence of duress, mistake or unsoundness of mind, or otherwise, you can apply for an annulment.
You must do so, within three years of the marriage date and will require your original marriage certificate. If you do not have this for whatever reason, your solicitor can still progress the divorce or annulment.
If you do not qualify for an annulment, for example, because more than three years have elapsed or your solicitor feels you do not have sufficient evidence/grounds for the annulment, then you can terminate your marriage by way of divorce. The most common ground to use would be the unreasonable behaviour of your spouse.
A specialist family lawyer will be able to advise and assist you as to which is the best course of action for you to take.
Other legal remedies also exist for those that require protection of the law whether or not married, to either prevent the marriage from taking place and securing their welfare and/or protecting the individual seeking escape from the marriage. A forced marriage protection order (FMPO) , can be made at Court where:
- There is a threat of a forced marriage in the UK
- There is a threat of a forced marriage outside the UK but where the subject of the threats is still within the UK
- The person to be protected is outside the UK but a forced marriage is believed to have or is at risk of taking place
- The person to be protected is within the UK following a forced marriage having taken place inside or outside the UK
The application must be made at one of the nominated courts. A specialist family lawyer will be able to advise you on this matter.
Other organisations exist which provide useful advice and assistance, most notably the Forced Marriage Unit – www.gov.uk/forced-marriage. They can be contacted on 0207 008 0151 and will provide useful help and assistance to anyone who requires advice about forced marriages.