Family Courts can end a marriage in two ways – by a decree absolute of divorce, which ends a valid marriage, or by a decree of nullity, which finds that the marriage was not valid in the first place (annulment).
It may be preferable to annul a marriage, rather than seek a divorce, because for example:
- unlike divorce, you can get a marriage annulled at any time after the wedding (in a divorce, you have to wait at least a year); and
- you may want an annulment if you have religious reasons for not wanting a divorce.
However, you need to show that the marriage was either not valid in the first place (“void”), or is defective (“voidable”) for one of the reasons given below.
Reasons for declaring a marriage legally invalid include:
- either party being under the age of 16
- either party being already married
- the parties are prohibited from marrying, for example father and daughter. Famously, King Henry VIII (below) split from the Catholic Church because the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon on the ground that she was Henry’s late brother’s wife.
You can annul a marriage if:
- it wasn’t consummated – you haven’t had sex with the person you married since the wedding (doesn’t apply for same sex couples)
- you didn’t properly consent to the marriage – eg you were drunk or forced into it
- the other person had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married
- the woman was pregnant by another man when you got married
Note that unlike with divorce, if you are seeking to annul your marriage you will have to attend court, even if your spouse agrees with your application.
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