Annulment is a declaration by the court that a marriage was not legally valid or had become legally invalid. Under English law an annulment may be granted for a number of different reasons, including if the marriage hasn’t been consumated, if either party was already married at the time of your marriage and other more technical legal reasons.
How is a marriage annulled?
The grounds for obtaining an annulment are not always straight-forward and you will need to discuss your particular circumstances in detail with a family lawyer who specialises in this area of law.
You must apply to the court to annul the marriage by presenting a ‘Nullity Petition’ within a reasonable period of time, and in many cases this will be within three years of the marriage. There is no requirement to have been married for 12 months before applying.
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.
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.
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.
The legal annulment is not the same as a religious annulment. Under the revised Catholic church guidelines, to achieve an annulment a couple will only need a church tribunal decision and not an additional confirming decision.
Straightforward cases will now have annulment granted by a local bishop. The grounds on which a religious annulment could be sought include an extramarital relationship at the time of the marriage, abortion and one of the parties lacking religious faith. Critically for many, the changes mean Catholics who wish to remarry will be able to have their second marriage recognised by the church.
Unlike divorce, in which a marriage is dissolved, an annulment is based on the church recognising the marriage was never properly entered into in the first place.
The important thing to note is that if you want to sever the legal ties created by marriage, or plan to remarry you must obtain either a divorce or a legal annulment. A religious annulment has no legal status in English law.
A void marriage
Void marriages are void from the beginning and can, in theory, be treated by both parties as never having taken place, so they don’t even need to seek an annulment from the court. However, it is almost always advisable to do so, to provide some evidence that the parties are free to remarry should they wish to do so in the future. A marriage that could be void from the start could be for example, that one party was already married to another, or because one party was under age at the time, or perhaps they were not permitted legally to marry each other in the first place for (ie if they were related by blood).
A voidable marriage
A voidable marriage is valid unless and until a Decree of Nullity (an annulment, in other words) has been granted. There are various grounds upon which a marriage could be voidable, for example if one party had wilfully refused to consummate the marriage, or if one party was pregnant by someone other than their husband at the time of the marriage, or if one party did not give valid consent for example because of unsoundness of mind, mistake or duress, there are other grounds too but these are the main ones we come across. Some grounds require the petition to be brought within 3 years of the marriage so it is important to take advice early to understand if these apply to your case.
Whether the marriage is void or voidable, if a petition for nullity is issued the parties can take advantage of the court’s powers to grant financial provision, just as they can with a divorce, so it is vital to take legal advice to explore whether you need to make a financial claim against your spouse when you apply for the annulment.
How long does it take and how much does it cost?
If you are eligible and the case is uncontested (ie both parties agree to the annulment) it will take between six to eight months to process.
Unlike divorce, which, if it is uncontested is usually done on paper and requires neither party to attend Court, for an annulment you will have to make a court appearance.
In a case which is uncontested and will be heard in a Court local to a Woolley & Co, lawyer we can arrange an annulment for a fixed fee of £1,410 plus VAT and the Court fee of £550.00.
In some cases another party can oppose the annulment – this can sometimes result in your lawyer needing to obtain and produce for court of lot of additional evidence and in some instances the court case is long and involved too. In these circumstances talk to Woolley & Co, solicitors about handling your case on an hourly rate basis.