Family law

What's the difference between divorce and annulment?

Just like a divorce, an annulment brings your marriage to an end. However, whilst a divorce dissolves your marriage, an annulment of marriage means that in the eyes of the law, the marriage never took place.

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Why are divorce and annulment two separate things?

An annulment is a legal procedure that ends a marriage by declaring it null and void. It can be granted if a marriage is deemed to be either defective or was never valid in the first place. That's why, if you are able to establish that your marriage to your partner was never legal, then in the eyes of the law, it is as though it didn't happen.

In contrast, a divorce doesn't bring into question the legal validity of a marriage; instead, it is the legal dissolution of a marriage. Unlike an annulment - which you can get at any time after your wedding - you have to be married for a year before you can apply for a divorce.

Can I apply for an annulment?

To apply for an annulment, you have to complete a nullity petition. Before you do so, it is important to be aware that the grounds for annulment are limited and they can be difficult to establish.

You can get an annulment if your marriage can be shown to be 'void', meaning it was not valid under the law in the first place. For example, your marriage may be void if:

• You or your partner were under the age of 16 when you married

• You are closely related

• One of you was married to someone else or in a civil partnership when you married

It's also possible to get an annulment if your marriage is 'voidable.' This applies if you:

• Didn't consummate the marriage - although this is not the case for same sex couples

• Didn't give proper consent to marry: for example, if you were under the influence of alcohol or you were coerced into it

• Were pregnant with another man's child when you married

Your marriage may also be voidable if one of you had a sexually transmitted disease when you got married.

Can I get a divorce?

After a year of marriage, you can file a divorce petition to start divorce proceedings if you can prove that your relationship has irretrievably broken down. Irretrievable breakdown is the only 'grounds' for a divorce being granted in the UK. However, this must be proven by one of the following five reasons:

• Adultery: Where you can prove that your spouse has had a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex during your marriage

Unreasonable behaviour: Where your spouse has engaged in behaviour that you couldn't reasonably be expected to tolerate

Desertion: Where your spouse has been absent for more than two years in the last two and a half years, without reason, without agreement or simply with the intention of bringing your relationship to an end

You have lived separately for more than two years: This enables you to seek a divorce if you both agree

You have lived separately for more than five years: This enables you to seek a divorce even if your spouse doesn't want to get divorced

If you are able to give one of these reasons, you will then have to go through a number of legal stages in order to dissolve your marriage.

What are my next steps to divorce or annulment?

Whether you think you may qualify for an annulment or you're looking to get a divorce, it is important to seek expert legal advice. A family law solicitor will talk you through your options and guide you through this process. Separating from your spouse can be an emotionally fraught time and you will no doubt have a lot on your mind. As well as ending your marriage from a legal standpoint, you might have to resolve potentially complex issues concerning children, money and property.

A specialist solicitor will help to protect your interests and achieve the best outcome for you and your family. They will be able to tell you whether you have grounds to file for annulment or divorce, and advise you on the next steps to take. They will also help to minimise any stress and anxiety during this difficult period.

How can Slater and Gordon help?

Many of our experts are members of Resolution, which is an organisation of lawyers that promotes a constructive approach to family law. Wherever possible, we help our clients to avoid going to court, therefore keeping expenses, stress and conflict to a minimum. Our initial consultation costs just £99 for family law advice.

If you need to seek divorce or annulment while avoiding cost and conflict wherever possible, speak to one of our experienced family solicitors today. Call us now on 0330 041 5869 or contact us and we will call you.

Prices quoted on this page include VAT.

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