What is the difference between annulment and divorce?

Like a divorce, an annulment brings an end to your marriage. However, a divorce dissolves your marriage while an annulment of marriage means that your marriage never happened – at least in the eyes of the law. However, why are they treated as two separate things? Here are more answers to ‘what is the difference between annulment and divorce?’ 

What is the difference between annulment and divorce legally speaking? 

Annulment and divorce are treated as two separate things because an annulment brings into question the legality of a marriage, while a divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage. An annulment is a legal process that ends a marriage by declaring it null and void.  

An annulment is granted if a marriage is deemed to be ‘defective’ or invalid in the first place. This means that if you are able to establish that your marriage was never legal, in the eyes of the law, it’s though it never happened. 

Meanwhile, unlike an annulment – which you can get at any time after your wedding – you must have been married for at least 12 months before you can apply for a divorce.

How to apply for an annulment 

To make an application for an annulment, you will need to complete a nullity petition. However, it’s important to recognise that the grounds for annulling your marriage are limited and can be difficult to establish. 

If you can prove your marriage to be invalid under law, then it’s possible to get an annulment. Your marriage can be deemed void if: 

  • You or your partner were under 16 when you got married 
  • You are ‘closely’ related 
  • You or your partner were married to or in a civil partnership with someone else when you married each other 

It’s also possible to get an annulment if your marriage can be voided in the following scenarios: 

  • The marriage was not consummated – this does not apply to same-sex marriages 
  • Proper consent to marry was not given – for example, you were under the influence of alcohol or you were coerced into marrying 
  • You were pregnant with another man’s child when you married 

Meanwhile, your marriage could be deemed voidable if you or your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease when marrying. 

Getting a divorce 

You can only file for divorce after one-year of marriage and you must be able to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. Under current laws – until the introduction of no fault divorce in 2022 – irretrievable breakdown is the only grounds for getting a divorce in the UK. 

This must be proven under one of the following five reasons: 

  1. Adultery 
  2. Unreasonable behaviour 
  3. Desertion 
  4. You have lived separately for two years or more and the other party consents 
  5. You have lived separately for more than five years 

Do you get an annulment or a divorce? 

When taking your next steps, you should consult with a specialist family lawyer for advice. Here at Holland Family Law, we can talk you through your options and help guide you through the process.  

Legally ending your marriage may only be the first step as you may have to resolve potentially more complex issues concerning children, finances and property. 

Holland Family Law has your best interests at heart and can tell you whether you can apply for an annulment or whether you need to file for divorce. We’re here to help you minimise the stress and anxiety of the situation. 

Thank you to Claire Holland of Holland Family law for this insightful article about the differences between annulment and divorce. Contact Claire HERE

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