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Marriage Annulment

It is possible in limited circumstances to dissolve a marriage or civil partnership by way of annulment. There is a misconception that this is easier than obtaining a divorce. The reality is that the grounds for annulment are very limited and will only apply in rare cases. Most marriages will be brought to and end by divorce and this is often the most time and cost effective way.

There are two ways a marriage can be annulled. The first is when the marriage is found to be Void and the second is where the marriage is found to be Voidable. These both apply to marriages that took place after 31 July 1971.

Grounds on which a marriage is void

in England and Wales.

Grounds on which a marriage is voidable

A marriage is voidable if;-

  1. The marriage has not been consummated owing to the incapacity of either party to consummate it;
  2. At the time of the marriage either party, though capable of giving a valid consent, was suffering (whether continuously or intermittently) from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983 of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfitted for marriage;
  3. At the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form
  4. At the time of the marriage the respondent was pregnant by some person other than the petitioner;
  5. An interim gender recognition certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has, after the time of the marriage, been issued to either party to the marriage;
  6. The respondent is a person whose gender at the time of the marriage had become the acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Proceedings for annulment must be brought within 3 years of the marriage or 6 months from the date of a gender recognition certificate. If proceedings are brought after that time, they can only proceed if the Court grants permission.

The procedure for annulment is the same as divorce. The petition for annulment must be served on the respondent and they have to indicate whether they intend to defend the annulment process. If they do, the court will make directions and list the case for a trail. If annulment is sought on the basis of non consummation of the marriage, medical examination may be required if the Court feels it cannot make a decision about the case without it. If the Respondent proves their case, the annulment cannot proceed.

If the Respondent does not seek to defend the annulment process it will continue in the same way as a divorce until the Decree Absolute is pronounced.

In some situations, especially when the respondent is likely to contest annulment proceedings, it may be possible to commence divorce proceedings instead. The main difference being that if the Respondent defends the divorce, the divorce is likely to proceed one way or another following orders and directions from the court even if the Respondent proves their case.

The Family team at Cartwright King can provide further advice in relation to this issue. We can arrange an initial fixed price meeting for £180 inclusive of VAT.

Emma Hubbard is a solicitor specialising in Family and Divorce Law. She is based at our Sheffield office and can be contacted on 07889648497 or

Cartwright King offers Family legal advice from 14 offices around the country, to speak to us please call 0845 894 1622 or email

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