Forced marriages is something of a hidden crime but in the UK between 2011 and 2018 there were on average 1,359 forced marriages reported every year. Victims are often below the age of 18 and include males as well as females forced into marriage against their will. This is however the tip of the iceberg as these are only reported cases, there are likely to be many more instances that aren’t reported. As family lawyers we receive enquiries occasionally from people who are in marriages against their will and the good news is we can help.
A forced marriage should not be mistaken for an arranged one which is very different and for some communities forms part of their tradition, family culture and family 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 should not be tolerated however is young men and women, and sometimes children, being forced by their parents to get married which results for some in an unhappy, abusive and depressing relationship.
Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. But for most people their focus is just to get out of the marriage into which they were forced.
What is a forced marriage?
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage, and pressure or abuse is used to force them into marriage.
Force includes coercion by threats, blackmail or other psychological means.
How to end a forced marriage
Terminating a forced marriage can be done in one of two ways. It may be possible to annul the marriage under certain circumstances, or if not by instigating divorce proceedings.
Reasons for annulment include a lack of valid consent to the marriage whether in a consequence of duress, mistake or unsoundness of mind. Any petition for annulment (which follows a similar procedure to divorce) must be presented within 3 years of the marriage.
If you were able to establish that the marriage was not lawful and therefore not valid, then the marriage can be annulled and the effect of this is that you retain your single “marital status” and do not need a divorce.
The accepted reasons for annulment are limited meaning obtaining an annulment is not always possible. In this case a divorce would be needed to end the marriage. This is often the case if a marriage has existed for more than three years.
A common misconception is that nothing can be done if the marriage took place abroad. As most marriages are considered valid in the UK, provided the marriage was conducted in accordance with the necessary laws of the relevant country, then the UK would have jurisdiction to bring an end to that marriage.
Preventing a forced marriage
If you are in a situation whereby you are wanting to prevent the marriage from taking place then it is possible to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). Such an order can be obtained where the following exists:
- There is the threat of a forced marriage in the UK;
- There is a threat of a forced marriage outside the UK 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 of the UK.
A specialist family lawyer will be able to advise you on this matter.
Other organisations exist which can also provide useful advice and assistance, most notably the Forced Marriage Unit – www.gov.uk/forced-marriage. They can also be contacted on 0207 008 0151 and will provide useful help and assistance to anyone who requires advice about forced marriages.
Family lawyer Derby