Annulment Vs Divorce: What’s The Difference?

Annulment Vs Divorce: What’s The Difference?
Annulment Vs Divorce: What’s The Difference?

There are many reasons why couples tend to view annulment as the preferred option when compared to divorce.

Couples may prefer annulment over divorce for various reasons, such as religious or cultural considerations, not meeting the legal requirements for divorce due to a short marriage, or perceiving it as a simpler and more cost-effective process. However, annulment is not necessarily straightforward.

Annulment requires strict grounds that can be challenging to prove, making it impractical for many couples. Our expert family law specialists can offer comprehensive guidance on both divorce and annulment processes, helping you determine the most suitable option for your circumstances.

Why are divorce and annulment two different things?

In essence, divorce is the legal procedure to terminate a marriage, whereas an annulment declares that a marriage was never legally valid or should be deemed invalid due to specific reasons. Following an annulment, it is as if the couple were never married in the first place.

What are the legal grounds for divorces and annulments?

The grounds used to determine whether it is possible to get a divorce or annulment vary.

Divorce

The rules governing divorce in England and Wales underwent changes in 2022 with the enactment of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

Since this Act came into effect, couples seeking divorce only need to provide a statement declaring that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They are not required to cite a reason or provide evidence for the breakdown of the relationship.

Another important condition for married couples seeking divorce is that they must have been married for more than a year before initiating the divorce application.

Annulment

In England and Wales, annulment can fall into one of two categories:

  1. Marriages that are void
  2. Marriages that are voidable

Void marriages are not considered to be legally valid. A marriage may be void if:

  • One partner was already married or in a civil partnership
  • The couple are closely related
  • One or both partners were under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage

A voidable marriage in England and Wales is considered to be legally valid if it meets one or more of the following grounds:

  • The marriage was not consummated owing to the incapacity of either party
  • The marriage was not consummated owing to the wilful refusal of either party
  • Either party did not validly consent to the marriage (through duress, mistake, incapacity or otherwise)
  • At the time of the marriage, either party was suffering from a mental disorder
  • At the time of the marriage, either party was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease
  • At the time of the marriage, one party was pregnant with another person’s child
  • An interim gender recognition certificate has been granted to either party in the preceding 6 months
  • One party is a person whose gender, at the time of the marriage, had been acquired under the Gender Recognition Act

While the conditions for a voidable marriage may seem straightforward, more factors need to be established before courts will grant an annulment. This underscores the stricter grounds required for an annulment compared to divorce.

How do the processes for divorce and annulment differ?

The respective processes for an annulment vs. a divorce are as follows:

Divorce

The divorce application process was updated in April 2022 with the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

To apply for a divorce, the first step is to file an application containing details of both parties along with a statement of ‘irretrievable breakdown’, declaring the marriage irreparably broken. Divorce applications are submitted online, unlike annulments.

Either partner can make a sole application, or both can apply jointly. In a sole application, the court sends the application to the respondent, who must provide an Acknowledgement of Service form within 14 days.

If the court approves the application, it sets a date for the conditional order. There is a minimum 20-week period between the application and the conditional order.

Six weeks after the conditional order, the applicant(s) can apply for a final order, finalising the divorce.

This process covers the formalities of divorce only. Couples must make separate arrangements for finances.

Annulment

If a marriage is eligible for annulment, you will need to submit an application to the court requesting the annulment.

The annulment application is submitted to the court along with any necessary supporting documents. The other party will have 14 days to respond to this application.

If there are no objections, it will then be possible to apply for a conditional order. If the court is satisfied that the annulment should be granted, it will issue the conditional order.

After six weeks, it is then possible to apply for a final order, which declares that the marriage has never legally existed.

How do annulments and divorces deal with children?

During both divorce and annulment processes, both parents will have the opportunity to reach a voluntary agreement regarding where their child will live, how they are raised, and when they will spend time with each other. If an agreement cannot be reached, an application for a court order can be made.

Whether child arrangements are being determined following a divorce or annulment, the primary focus will always be on prioritising the welfare of the children above all else. Our team can provide detailed advice on this matter as needed.

Is an annulment easier than a divorce?

While every relationship and separation is unique, obtaining an annulment is generally more challenging compared to divorce. UK statistics reflect this, with the Office for National Statistics reporting 111,934 opposite-sex divorces in 2021 compared to only 231 annulments.

As discussed, the grounds for annulment are stringent and may not apply to every couple, making it an impractical option in many cases. Before considering the annulment process, seeking advice from a specialist family law solicitor is essential.

Both the annulment and divorce processes require court approval. It’s important to weigh whether an annulment is appropriate or to wait 12 months for a divorce application. Our expert team can provide guidance on the best approach for your circumstances.

Avatar of DLS Solicitors by DLS Solicitors
24th April 2024
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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