Quick Summary of Annulment

A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained in most states for one of the following reasons: misrepresentation, concealment (for example, of an addiction or criminal record), misunderstanding and refusal to consummate the marriage.

What is the dictionary definition of Annulment?
Dictionary Definition of Annulment

Annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage or contract to be null and void, as if it never existed. It is a formal declaration that the marriage or contract is invalid due to certain legal grounds, such as fraud, duress, or lack of consent. Annulment differs from divorce in it treats the marriage or contract as if it never occurred, rather than ending it. The purpose of annulment is to restore the parties involved to their pre-marital or pre-contractual status, and it may involve the division of property, custody of children, and other related matters.

  1. An act or instance of annulling.
  2. A state of having been annulled.
  3. An invalidation of something, especially a legal contract
  4. A legal (notably judicial) declaration that a marriage is invalid; the procedure leading to it.
  5. Total destruction.
Full Definition Of Annulment

Annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void as if it never existed. Unlike divorce, which ends a valid marriage, annulment treats the marriage as if it never happened due to certain legal grounds. The grounds for annulment vary by jurisdiction but commonly include fraud, bigamy, incest, mental incapacity, underage marriage, or lack of consent. To obtain an annulment, one must file a petition with the court, providing evidence to support the grounds for annulment. If the court grants the annulment, it declares the marriage invalid from its inception, and the parties are considered to have never been married. The legal effects of annulment may include the division of property, spousal support, and child custody, similar to those in a divorce.

If a marriage is thought to be void (see: Void Marriage), either partner can apply to the High Court for a ‘declaration of nullity’, indicating that the marriage effectively never took place. If a marriage is voidable but not void (see: voidable marriage), either party can apply to a competent court for an annulment. Annulment is technically different from divorce (see: Divorce) because it rests on the state present at the time of marriage, not events that happened after marriage. In practice, however, the effect of an annulment is much the same as that of divorce.

Annulment is a legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never legally existed. Unlike divorce, which terminates a valid marriage, annulment is a retroactive decree, implying that the marriage was invalid from the outset. This comprehensive overview will explore the grounds for annulment, the process, and the legal implications in the context of British law.

Grounds for Annulment

Under British law, annulment can be sought on various grounds, which are broadly classified into two categories: void and voidable marriages.

Void Marriages

A void marriage is one that is considered never to have existed in the eyes of the law. The grounds for marriage to be void are stringent and include:

  1. Bigamy or Polygamy: If either party was already married to someone else at the time of the marriage, the subsequent marriage is automatically void.
  2. Prohibited Degrees of Relationship: Marriages between certain relatives are prohibited by law. This includes, for example, marriages between siblings, parents and children, or uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews.
  3. Non-age: If either party was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage, the marriage is void. British law stipulates that individuals must be at least 16 years old to marry, with parental consent required if under 18.
  4. Non-compliance with formalities: A marriage can be void if it does not comply with the required legal formalities. This includes the failure to give proper notice of the marriage or to have it solemnised by a recognised official.

Voidable Marriages

A voidable marriage, on the other hand, is considered valid until it is annulled by a court. The grounds for marriage to be voidable include:

  1. Non-consummation: If the marriage has not been consummated due to the incapacity of either party or the wilful refusal of the respondent, it can be annulled.
  2. Lack of Consent: If one of the parties did not validly consent to the marriage due to duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind, or otherwise, the marriage can be voidable.
  3. Mental Disorder: If either party was suffering from a mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage, the marriage can be voidable.
  4. Venereal Disease: If at the time of the marriage, the respondent was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form, the marriage can be voidable.
  5. Pregnancy by Another: If the respondent was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage, it can be voidable.
  6. Gender Recognition: If one party was issued with a gender recognition certificate after the marriage, making them legally recognised as their acquired gender, the marriage can be annulled if the other party did not know about or consent to the change.

The Annulment Process

The process of obtaining an annulment in the UK involves several steps, similar to divorce proceedings but with some key differences.

Filing a Petition

The process begins with filing a petition for nullity. The petitioner (the person seeking the annulment) must file this document in the family court, citing the grounds for annulment. This petition must be filed within a reasonable time frame.

  • For voidable marriages, the petition should ideally be filed within three years of the marriage.
  • There is no time limit for filing a petition to annul a void marriage, as it is considered never to have existed.

Court Proceedings

Once the petition is filed, the court will review the case. The respondent (the other party to the marriage) must be served with the petition and have the opportunity to contest it. If the respondent contests the petition, a hearing will be scheduled where both parties can present evidence and arguments.

Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute

If the court finds in favour of the petitioner, it will issue a decree nisi. This is a provisional decree that states the court sees no reason why the marriage cannot be annulled. After six weeks, the petitioner can apply for a decree absolute, which is the final decree that legally annuls the marriage.

Legal Implications of Annulment

Annulment has several legal implications that differ from those of divorce. These include:

Property and Financial Settlements

Unlike divorce, where the division of assets is a central issue, annulment cases may result in different financial settlements. Since the marriage is treated as if it never existed, the court might not approach financial settlements in the same way. However, the court still has the power to make financial orders, including for maintenance and property adjustment, particularly in voidable marriages where the marriage was valid until annulled.

Legitimacy of Children

One of the significant concerns in annulment cases is the status of children born during the marriage. Under British law, children born into a marriage that is later annulled are considered legitimate. This ensures that the annulment does not negatively impact the rights and status of the children.

Inheritance and Succession Rights

Annulment affects inheritance and succession rights differently than divorce. Since an annulled marriage is treated as never having existed, any inheritance rights that depend on the existence of the marriage may be invalidated. However, the court can make financial provision orders for the petitioner, including maintenance and property adjustment, ensuring fair financial outcomes.


Once a decree absolute is granted, both parties are free to remarry. In the case of a void marriage, since it was never legally valid, either party could technically remarry at any time. However, it is advisable to wait until the decree absolute is granted to avoid any legal complications.

Annulment in the Context of Religious Marriages

In addition to civil annulments, individuals might seek religious annulments, particularly within the Roman Catholic Church, where annulment is a significant concept. A religious annulment is separate from a civil annulment and does not have legal standing in British law. However, it is essential for individuals who wish to remarry within their faith.

Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic Church can grant an annulment (a declaration of nullity) if it finds that the marriage was invalid according to Canon Law. The grounds for a religious annulment can overlap with civil grounds, such as lack of consent or non-consummation, but can also include other considerations specific to church doctrine. Obtaining a religious annulment involves a separate process from a civil annulment and requires a tribunal’s decision.

Other Religious Contexts

Other religions have their own procedures and grounds for annulment, often involving religious courts or authorities. For example, in Islam, annulment (faskh) can be granted under specific circumstances, such as fraud or concealment of critical information.

Differences Between Annulment and Divorce

While both annulment and divorce dissolve a marriage, there are key differences:

  1. Legal Status of the Marriage: Annulment declares the marriage invalid from the start, whereas divorce ends a legally valid marriage.
  2. Grounds: The grounds for annulment are generally more specific and limited than those for divorce. Divorce can be sought on broader grounds, such as irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
  3. Process and Time Frame: The annulment process can sometimes be quicker than divorce, particularly for void marriages. However, for voidable marriages, the process might be comparable to divorce proceedings.
  4. Financial Settlements: The approach to financial settlements can differ, as annulment treats the marriage as never having existed, potentially influencing property division and maintenance differently than in divorce.
  5. Social and Religious Implications: Annulment might have different social and religious implications, especially for those whose faith practices prohibit or frown upon divorce but allow annulment under certain conditions.


Annulment is a nuanced legal process that invalidates a marriage, rendering it null and void. It is a distinct procedure from divorce, with specific grounds and legal implications. Understanding the differences between void and voidable marriages, the annulment process, and its consequences on property, children, and inheritance is crucial for individuals considering this option. In the context of British law, annulment serves as a legal remedy for marriages that should never have occurred, ensuring that justice and fairness are maintained for the parties involved.

Annulment FAQ'S

This is a method of cancelling out a marriage. It is possible to make a marriage null and void by this process.  Annulment is different from divorce. A legitimate marriage can be cancelled by a divorce. The process of cancelling a marriage that is not considered legitimate under legal terms is known as an annulment. This is not a complex process like divorce. In order to get an annulment, one should prove his eligibility for an annulment. Legal evidence is needed to prove that the marriage that happened was illegitimate or invalid. You will need the help of an annulment lawyer to support you in the process. There is a time period after the marriage within which the annulment request should be made. If the request is made after the expiry of the time period the couple can only pursue a divorce.

Many people opt for an annulment rather than a divorce because it is faster than the divorce process. Moreover, once the marriage is annulled, there will be no trace on the records of the members involved.  In normal cases, the waiting period for annulment is only 20 days, but, if both participants agree, the period can be waived. Your marriage will be made null as if you had never married. If you appoint a good lawyer for your annulment, you will be able to easily convince the court about your eligibility and get the process done.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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