Annulments must be one of the most misunderstood areas of family law in the UK, or the least understood, whichever way you want to look at it. At Woolley & Co, it is an area that consistently generates enquiries and yet, last year, we actually completed just two annulments for clients. Many of the enquiries we do get come from the Asian community.
It is wrong to think that a marriage can just be “cancelled” with an annulment soon after the nuptials have taken place simply because you change your mind or it doesn’t immediately turn into the dream life together a person wants. Non consummation is usually the primary reason for seeking an annulment but there are other reasons that can be used to help gain an annulment via an application for a nullity petition, within a reasonable period of time.
- One or other party was already married
- One party was unable to give valid consent for the marriage
- At least one party was under 16
- Not a fully male/female couple
- Spouses are related (though this is a complex area)
- If your spouse had a communicable form of a sexually transmitted disease when you got married
- If your spouse was pregnant with someone else’s child and you didn’t know about it
- If you didn’t conform to the proper legal requirements (ie you didn’t fill in the forms properly).
Contrary to popular belief, not consummating a marriage is not always grounds for an annulment. It needs to be the party refused sex who makes the application. The applicant cannot be the person who has forced the abstention.
An annulment will not be granted just because both sides agree to it because it will be quicker and cheaper than a divorce. It is not a quick option, normally taking six to eight months to complete and, unlike a straight-forward divorce, requires the parties to attend a court hearing, so can be more stressful. And in terms of cost – the legal costs will be similar to divorce, so there’s no real saving.
It is fair to say that most couples who marry will not be eligible for an annulment. This may be different in other countries, particularly in the United States where several high profile celebrities like Britney Spears, have managed to get marriages annulled very quickly after changing their mind the next day. Britney may have found it more difficult if she had married in London rather than Las Vegas.
As mentioned above, many of our enquiries on annulments come from the Asian community. The exact reasons for this are unknown but are likely to be related to cultural issues and attitudes to marriage, for instance couples being matched by their families without knowing each other but finding out very quickly they are not compatible.
Annulment is a term bandied around freely but in actual fact is not an easy topic to navigate. As always, the best first stop if you feel you want to pursue this path is to take expert advice from an experienced family lawyer.