What is the Difference Between an Annulment and Divorce?

In England and Wales, there are two main methods for ending a marriage – annulment and divorce. But what is the difference between them, and which one applies to you?

Annulment vs divorce – what’s the difference?

It would be easy to assume that the annulment of a marriage and divorce are essentially the same thing. But this isn’t the case.

A divorce will formally dissolve a marriage based on the relationship having broken down, whereas an annulment will render it void or defective – meaning it was never legally valid or there is reason to believe the marriage can be voided.

If you are granted an annulment, it will be as though you were never married. Your status will go back to what it was before, and there will no longer be any legal recognition of the marriage having taken place.

There are some requirements you must meet before applying for an annulment, though. We’ve explained these further in this guide, as well as setting out what the process involves and how a solicitor could help you.

To find out more, keep reading or get in touch with our expert team for free initial advice.

What are the grounds for an annulment?

It’s a common misconception that if you’ve only been married for a short time, you will automatically qualify for an annulment if you wish to end the marriage.

But in reality, you will need to be able to prove that your marriage is either void or voidable in order to get an annulment. And although these terms are similar, they do have slightly different meanings.

Your marriage will be classed as void if it was never legally valid. This could apply if:

  • You’re closely related to the person you married
  • You or your partner were already married or in a civil partnership
  • You or your partner were under 16 at the time you got married

When a marriage is voidable, it means that the marriage was legally valid but there is a reason why it should no longer be held up in the eyes of the law. Your marriage could be deemed voidable if:

  • It was never consummated, meaning you haven’t had sex since getting married (this doesn’t apply for same-sex couples)
  • One or both partners were forced into the marriage
  • One partner had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) at the time of the wedding
  • One partner was transitioning to a different gender (without the knowledge of the other person)
  • You or your partner were pregnant with someone else’s child when you got married

To apply for an annulment, you or your spouse must also have lived in England or Wales for at least a year and you will need to have had a permanent residence for a minimum of six months.

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for an annulment, an experienced divorce and family law solicitor could help you.

How to get an annulment

Unlike a divorce, you can apply for an annulment at any time after your marriage. But it is worth noting that the later you apply, the more likely it will be that you’re questioned on the delay.

There are three main steps involved when applying for an annulment:

  1. Submit your initial application
    To apply for an annulment, you’ll first need to fill in a nullity application form. There is a fee for completing this form but you could be entitled to financial aid if you’re on a low income or claiming benefits.
  2. Apply for a conditional order
    Your spouse will have 14 days to respond to your nullity application. After this, you can apply for a conditional order (previously known as a decree nisi). This will act as confirmation that the court does not see a reason why your marriage shouldn’t be annulled.
  3. Apply for a final order
    Six weeks after you receive your conditional order, you’ll be able to apply for a final order (previously called a decree absolute). This document will confirm that your marriage has officially been annulled.

How long it takes for your annulment to be granted will depend on your personal circumstances. But the process will usually span over several months. Your final order could be delayed if your spouse contests the annulment, though.

In these instances, you may need to undergo a process of proving that your marriage is void or voidable. This is another factor that sets annulment apart from divorce as new no fault divorce legislation no longer allows for one person to contest an application.

How can a solicitor help?

Whether you’re considering an annulment or divorce, it’s important that you speak to a solicitor about your options. This will give you the reassurance that you’re going down a route that’s best for you.

Our divorce and family law solicitors are experts in this area. They can offer tailored advice and support for dealing with any practical issues that arise – such as the division of property or child arrangements.

To find out more about how we could help you, get in touch with our knowledgeable advisors. You can reach us on the number at the top of the screen or by starting your enquiry online.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.


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