Couples that are married for less than one year who fall out, or perhaps did not want to marry in the first place and want to separate, are regularly left in relationship limbo because the English divorce laws do not permit divorce within the first year of marriage. Although annulment is a more common concept in the USA, annulment is a way of ending a marriage in England and Wales. Like divorce, it ends the marriage, but it can take place at any time after the wedding.
In order to obtain an annulment, one party needs to prove that the marriage was either:
- Not legally valid and thus void, the law treating it as if it never took place; or
- Defective and thus voidable, the law treating it as an existing marriage until such time as the court grants a decree to annul it.
A marriage will be void if it was not legally valid in the first place, for example:
- one party was under the age 16 at the time of the wedding,
- one party was already married or in a civil partnership,
- the parties are within a prohibited degree of relationship e.g. brother and sister
- the parties are of the same sex,
- there has been non-compliance with a statutory provision or rule of law governing the formation of the marriage.
A marriage will be voidable if it is defective, for example:
- the marriage has not been consummated (there has been no intercourse between spouses since the wedding) due to either the willful refusal of one spouse, or the incapacity of either party to the marriage,
- there was no proper consent to the marriage, for example: forced marriage, duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind, suffering from a mental health disorder making the party unfit for marriage,
- at the time of the marriage a spouse had a sexually transmitted disease,
- at the time of the marriage the wife was pregnant by someone other than the husband.
Applying to the court for an annulment
An application for annulment can be made any time after the wedding. To annul the marriage a nullity petition needs to be completed and filed at the court. There is a court fee of £410 to pay when lodging this form at the court. The respondent spouse must respond to the nullity petition within eight days, stating whether or not they agree that the marriage should be annulled.
If they agree, an application can be made to the court for a ‘decree nisi’. An application for a decree nisi has to be completed along with a statement confirming what you has been said in the nullity petition is true. A decree nisi will then be pronounced by the court.
After a period of six weeks and one day from the date of the decree nisi an application can be made to the court for the decree of nullity by completing the appropriate application form. The court will check whether there are any reasons why the marriage cannot be annulled and in most cases, there is no need to attend at court. If the court is happy, it will issue the decree of nullity. The decree of nullity is the final legal document which says that the marriage has been annulled.
For more information on Mackrell Turner Garrett’s family services visit www.mackrell.com/for-you/family