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What is the difference between Divorce and Annulment?

Posted on 05th June 2023 in Family Law

Posted by

Aimee Aspinall

Associate & Solicitor
What is the difference between Divorce and Annulment?

Our Family Law experts are often asked how an individual or indeed a couple might annul their marriage. There is a commonly held misconception that an annulment is easy to come by and is more straightforward and perhaps quicker to deal with than divorce.

What is the difference?

An annulment, or nullity proceedings, is a legal process that ends a marriage by declaring it void. An annulment may be granted if a marriage is deemed either to never be valid in the first place or defective in some way. This is why, if it can be established that the marriage was never legal to begin with, it is treated as though it didn’t happen.

A divorce however does not question the validity of a marriage. Rather, it ends an existing valid marriage. A couple wishing to divorce must be married for at least a year before they can submit an application.

In contrast, an annulment can be applied for at any time after a wedding has taken place. This may be one of the reasons why it is viewed as a quicker option.

When can an annulment be applied for?

The grounds for annulment are very limited and can, in a lot of cases, be difficult to establish. There are two different types of marriages which can result in an annulment being granted. The first is a “void” marriage, meaning it was not valid in the first place. A marriage may be void if:

·      One or both parties were under the legal age for marriage when they got married. Prior to March 2023, individuals could get married from age 16 with parents’ consent. The age has now been increased to 18 years.

·      The parties are closely related, e.g., siblings, half-siblings.

·      One party (or both) was already legally married or in a civil partnership. This is its own criminal offence in the UK known as bigamy.

The second type of marriage which can be annulled is a “voidable” marriage these might include marriages where:

·      The parties did not consummate their marriage. There must also however be “wilful refusal” by one party to do so. This fact cannot be relied upon by same sex couples.

·      One party did not give proper consent to marry, for example if that individual was drunk, under the influence of drugs, coerced, or forced into the marriage.

The above is not an exhaustive list and our expert team of family lawyers will be able to advise on the specific facts of your case if you are considering an annulment of your marriage and whether this is an option for you.

What about divorce?

After a couple has been married for at least a year, if the marriage breaks down then either party or the parties jointly can apply for a divorce under the no fault divorce system.

What are my next steps?

Whatever you are considering, it is important to seek legal advice so that you decide upon a way forward in an informed way. A Family Law solicitor will be able to guide you through your options and advise you about your next steps. Our team of specialist family lawyers offer a free initial consultation.

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