Some might think that marriage annulment and divorce are one and the same in the UK but they would be very wrong. Divorce lawyer Claudette Jaggard-Inglis explains more in this blog.
As a family lawyer who has been practising for 17 years, I can count on one hand the number of annulment cases I have been involved with. That is how rare they are and annulment is a subject of decreasing importance for the matrimonial practitioner. This is because the present divorce law now makes it far easier for the parties to seek a divorce even where there may be grounds for annulment. I am however contacted by people regularly who ask ‘Can I get an annulment?’ or want to know under what circumstances an annulment would be granted.
The distinction between divorce and annulment remains important to those with deep religious convictions and also continues to be relevant where divorce is not an option because the marriage is void ab initio (from the outset) and one of the parties wishes to claim some form of financial relief usually available on a marital breakdown. These types of scenario are very rare in my experience.
The grounds for getting an annulment
Annulment or nullity as it is known in law, falls into two categories being marriages which are void and those which are voidable.
A void marriage is one which has never existed in law and therefore needs no formal decree to annul it. Nevertheless, a party to such a marriage may still wish to obtain a decree from the court as he/she will then be entitled to seek financial and property orders in the same way as you can upon filing for divorce. It would be very rare indeed to find a marriage that is void but I have known of one or two. Such as in the case where one of the parties was already lawfully married (bigamy). A marriage will be void for instance if either of the parties is already married, under age, closely related to each other etc.
A voidable marriage is one which is valid in all aspects until a decree of nullity is obtained. The grounds on which a marriage is voidable are:-
- That the marriage has not been consummated owing to the incapacity of either party
- That the marriage has not been consummated owing to the wilful refusal of the other party to consummate it
- That either party did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise
- That at the time of the marriage either party though capable of giving a valid consent was suffering from a mental disorder
- That at the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form
- That at the time of the marriage the respondent was pregnant by some person other than the petitioner.
Although these conditions sound fairly self explanatory the law expands further and far more has to be established in order to satisfy the courts that an annulment should be granted. In my experience, I have dealt with a couple of voidable marriages based on the grounds of non consummation but even this ground is not straight-forward and it may often be considered easier to petition for a divorce as opposed to nullity.
Not only does each ground go into great detail before you can consider whether your marriage is voidable, the court can also bar a person from applying in certain circumstances (for example where the person applying can be said to have accepted the situation). It is a very complex area of the law.
Divorce often quicker and cheaper than annulment
In my experience, it is often easier, quicker and cheaper for a person to file for divorce where the marriage may possibly fall into the voidable grounds for nullity (not of course where it was void and invalid from the start). The procedure either way is very similar but additional costs will be incurred in the case of an annulment as the court will list the matter for a hearing at some point during the process. The court may want to hear and see evidence from the parties in support of their petition for annulment. In the majority of divorce cases the divorce is a paper exercise only, with neither party having to attend court.
The court will consider the financial issues which arise from either an annulment or a divorce in the same way and therefore, as the end result will undoubtedly be the same, it is often far easier and cheaper to file for divorce.
Divorce does carry much less stigma than it used to and as I think I’ve explained obtaining an annulment is not an easy option so for many applying for divorce will prove easier, cheaper and much quicker, and will provide much the same end result. I am happy to talk through the options with anyone who is wondering whether they can annul their marriage.
Divorce and Family Lawyer Lutterworth