Annulment vs divorce – which is best for you?
There are two ways to end a marriage in the UK. But when it comes down to annulment vs divorce, which is best for you?
Because the outcomes might be the same, but there are significant differences between the two in terms of requirements.
Let’s take a deeper dive into whether annulment or divorce will give you the outcome you’re hoping for in your particular situation:
What Is Divorce?
In the UK, divorce is the legal process of ending a marriage. After you have been married for a year – and so long as your marriage is legally recognised in the UK – all you need to do is make a statement that your relationship has irretrievably broken down (this is the actual legal term) and you can petition for a divorce.
What Are The Grounds For Divorce In The UK?
Up until very recently, in order to apply for divorce in the UK, you needed to show that your marriage met one of the five legally accepted grounds for what constituted having broken down irretrievably. As of 6 April 2022 though, this is no longer the case.
As of 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 allows you to seek a no-fault divorce. All that’s needed is for you to make a statement that your marriage has broken down. You do not need to provide a reason like the old “separation” or “adultery” options.
What Is Annulment?
Instead of legally ending a marriage, annulment – in effect – cancels it as if it never happened. It is the equivalent of saying that the marriage wasn’t legally valid in the first place. You might also hear this referred to as “nullity” or “making a marriage null and void”.
In the UK, you can apply for annulment of marriage in England and Wales at any time (no need to wait a year) as long as both spouses have lived in England or Wales for one year and had a permanent residence for six months.
However, unlike the modern no-fault divorce process, there are specific conditions you have to meet before you can get your marriage annulled.
What Are The Grounds For Annulment In The UK?
To apply for annulment of a marriage, you need to prove that it was either never legal for you to have gotten married to begin with (this is called a “void marriage”) or that there are grounds for now having it voided (for your marriage to be “voidable”):
1) Void Marriage
A void marriage was never legally allowed in the first place. In order to be a void marriage, you will have to show that the spouses were:
- Under 16 – either spouse was under 16 years of age at the time of the marriage.
- Bigamy – is a slightly old-fashioned word for when one of the spouses was already married at the time of the marriage.
- Close relation – if the spouses are closely related to each other (there are set laws for what constitutes being “closely related” in UK law).
2) Voidable Marriage
There are certain grounds on which you can apply to have your marriage annulled even if it was technically legally valid at the time:
- Lack of true consent from one spouse, perhaps because they were inebriated at the time of the marriage.
- Lack of consummation since the marriage (of course, this can be difficult to prove)
- If one spouse was pregnant by someone else at the time of the marriage
- If one spouse had an STD (a Sexually Transmitted Disease) at the time of the marriage
- If one spouse was in the process of transitioning to a different gender or had transitioned without their spouse’s knowledge before the marriage.
- If one spouse has one of a listed number of mental illnesses
Which Is Better, Annulment Or Divorce?
There are certain advantages and disadvantages of annulment and divorce that might guide your decision as to which will be best for you:
- Timeframe – you need to wait for one year after marriage before you can seek a divorce. Annulment can be sought right away.
- Reason – you can seek a no-fault divorce with no reason given. Annulment has those specific requirements.
- Religious reasons – many faiths and denominations have rules regarding divorce. But if your marriage is annulled, you may be free to marry “properly” for the first time.
- Cancellation – you may wish to choose an annulment (if you can meet the requirements) simply because it wipes the slate clean rather than you being a divorcé or divorcée.
- Assets and claims – divorce and annulment can result in different outcomes relating to things like joint property purchases or claims for maintenance support, for example.
This last reason alone means it is usually a good idea to at least discuss your choice with a family law expert before you make your decision.
Annulment vs Divorce – Making Your Decision
The final outcome of both annulment and divorce are the same, at least from a legal standpoint. You and your former spouse are now able to marry again. There is also a similar court fee for both processes (around £550).
But there are significant differences too. These are well worth understanding before you decide which to apply for.
Need to know whether you should ask for your marriage to be annulled or apply for divorce?
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