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What is void and voidable marriage in the UK?

By , on Monday February 19, 2024 at 3:33 pm

The grounds for getting an annulment in the UK are very strict. Statistics from ONS indicate that only 231 annulments took place in 2021, which tells us that annulments in the UK are rare.

For an annulment to be granted, a marriage must be either ‘void’ or ‘voidable’.

This can be a complex area of law, and annulment time frames can be very strict. It is therefore important to have a clear understanding of what would cause a marriage to be void or voidable, and what steps need to be taken to prove this.

Annulment is a matter our specialist family law solicitors will be able to provide comprehensive guidance on, including advising you on whether your marriage could be considered void or voidable.

What is the difference between a void and voidable marriage?

The difference between void and voidable marriages in the UK is relatively straightforward.

A void marriage is one which was never legally valid in the first place. In theory, a void marriage could be treated as never having taken place by both parties. In this scenario, an annulment wouldn’t technically be required, but would still be advisable to provide clarity if either party wishes to remarry.

A voidable marriage is a legally valid marriage which meets one of the criteria that makes it voidable.

What makes a marriage void?

A void marriage is one that was never legal, for example because:

  • you or your partner were already married or in a civil partnership,
  • you and your partner are closely related (for example mother/son, aunt/nephew, father/daughter, brother/sister),
  • either of you were under the age of 18 at the time of the marriage (or under the age of 16 if the marriage took place before 27 February 2023).

What are the grounds on which a marriage is voidable?

A marriage is voidable in England and Wales if:

  • the marriage has not been consummated. This may be due to the incapacity of either party or the wilful refusal of the other party to have sexual intercourse. This reason does not apply for same sex couples.
  • either party did not properly consent to the marriage, for example they were forced to marry, or lacked the capacity to make the decision to marry.
  • at the time of the marriage either party was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • at the time of the marriage, the other party was pregnant by someone.
  • one party is in the process of transitioning to a different gender.

How to declare a marriage null and void

The process for declaring a marriage null and void (an annulment) is as follows:

  1. Complete an application for an annulment and file with the court with supporting documents (you should also keep a copy for your own records).
  2. The other party then has 8 days to respond to the application to say whether they agree to the annulment.
  3. If the other party agrees to the annulment, you can apply for a Conditional Order
  4. When the court grants the Conditional Order, this confirms that there is no lawful reason that the marriage cannot be annulled.
  5. 6 weeks after the Conditional Order is granted, you can apply for the Final Order, which might be referred to as a ‘decree of nullity’.

You must present the application for an annulment within a reasonable time. This will often be no more than three years after the marriage took place or within 6 months of a gender recognition certificate being granted.

To save time and potential costs, before going through with the process of applying for an annulment, you should first have a clear understanding of whether your marriage is likely to be void or voidable. This is something our family law solicitors will be able to support you with.

Our solicitors are here for you

Whether for religious or cultural reasons, or because you are not legally able to divorce yet, annulment may be the preferred option for ending your marriage, rather than divorce. However, as we have discussed, there are limited grounds for a marriage to be void or voidable, which means annulment isn’t a suitable option in every scenario.

Our expert family law solicitors will do their utmost to clarify your position and confirm whether an annulment will be possible, making the process as stress-free and efficient as we can, so you can have the clarity you need.

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.

Luci Larkin
Family law solicitor, Barnet

Blog Author - Luci Larkin

Luci LarkinLuci Larkin

Luci is an experienced and approachable divorce and family solicitor with Woolley & Co, based in Barnet, Greater London.


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