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Law Articles

Annulment as an alternative to divorce or dissolution 11/02/2021

The current law in England and Wales stipulates that parties must have been married or in a civil partnership for at least one year before a divorce or dissolution can be granted. There are, however, alternatives to divorce or dissolution in certain niche circumstances and therefore the possibility that some couples may be able to legally end their marriage or civil partnership earlier than they otherwise would.

Annulment, or nullity, legally ends a marriage or civil partnership and can be applied for if the criteria are met regardless of its length. Some circumstances will require permission from the court before application if the parties have been married or in a civil partnership for longer than three years.

Both parties must have been living in England or Wales for at least one year, or had a permanent home in England and Wales for longer than six months. An annulment requires proof that the marriage or civil partnership is either void or voidable.

A void marriage or civil partnership is one that is not legally valid, and thus deemed never to have taken place, on the basis of either:

  • One or both of the parties was under the age of 16 when the marriage or civil partnership took place;
  • Bigamy or polygamy: one of the parties is already married or in a civil partnership;
  • The parties to the marriage or civil partnership are closely related to one another.

A voided marriage or civil partnership is one that is considered "defective" on the basis of lack of capacity of one or both parties or that there was an issue with the marriage or civil partnership formalities. Voided marriages or civil partnerships will be treated by the court as valid up to the date of annulment.

Criteria for a voidable marriage or civil partnership include:

  • Lack of consent to the marriage or civil partnership, for instance duress, incapacitation, mistake or forced marriage;
  • One of the parties was suffering from a mental disorder;
  • Pregnancy by someone outside of the relationship that the other party was unaware of;
  • One of the parties was living as another gender, or had changed gender, outside of the UK and the other party was unaware of this;
  • One of the parties had a sexually transmitted disease that the other party was unaware of at the time of marriage or civil partnership.

Lack of consummation, either through wilful refusal or incapacity, can be relied on to deem opposite-sex marriages voidable but same-sex couples wishing to nullify their marriage or civil partnership are not able to rely on this. Same-sex couples who have converted a civil partnership into a marriage will be able to rely on any of the listed criteria to deem to a marriage voidable.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 7977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.
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