In This Post
In this complete guide I’ll teach you everything you need to know about getting an annulment in the UK; including:
- What is an annulment?
- What’s the difference between an annulment and a divorce?
- How do I get an annulment and how much will it cost?
Let’s dive right in…
What Is An Annulment?
An annulment is a way of ending a marriage without needing to divorce, because the marriage is not legally valid.
A marriage can be invalid for a number of reasons; such as a spouse being underage, or having been pressured into the marriage.
What Is The Difference Between An Annulment And A Divorce?
A divorce is the normal method of ending a marriage, while an annulment is a means of declaring that a marriage was never legally valid to begin with.
The other major difference is that you can get an annulment immediately, while to get a divorce you must wait a minimum of 12 months after your marriage.
What Are The Grounds For An Annulment?
The grounds for an annulment are very different to the normal <bloglink>grounds of divorce.<bloglink>
A marriage can be annulled if it falls into one of two categories:
- Marriages that are void.
- Marriages that are voidable.
‘Void’ simply means not valid, or not legally binding.
Marriages that are void:
A marriage is automatically void if:
- You and your spouse are closely related (such as being siblings).
- Either of you were under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage.
- Either of you were already married to someone else at the time of the marriage.
Marriages that are voidable:
A marriage is voidable if:
- It was not <bloglink>consummated<bloglink> (ie you have not had sex since the wedding).
- Either spouse did not freely consent to the marriage (eg. they were forced, coerced, drunk or incapacitated, or were tricked into the marriage).
- At the time you were married your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease.
- At the time you were married your spouse was pregnant with someone else’s child.
- Either spouse was going through a <bloglink>gender transition<bloglink> at the time of the marriage.
A void marriage is automatically invalid. In the eyes of the law, it is as if the marriage never existed at all.
A voidable marriage does legally exist, but because of the defects (eg. it was not consummated, or there was coercion or duress etc), you can choose to annul the marriage, thereby bringing it to an end without the need to formally divorce.
How To Get An Annulment
Technically, you don’t have to apply to court to end a void marriage (because it never legally existed to begin with).
However, most people choose to do so, as applying to court for a formal annulment means you will get a court order proving the marriage never existed. This can be useful if you ever want to remarry, and are worried there may be lingering doubts about your marital status.
To end a voidable marriage, you will always have to apply to the court for an annulment.
The process for getting your marriage annulled is as follows:
- Complete the <bloglink>annulment petition<bloglink> (usually with the assistance of a solicitor).
- Pay the £550 court fee.
- The court will then send the petition to your spouse, and they have 8 days to respond.
- If your spouse agrees to the annulment, you can apply for a <bloglink>'decree nisi’<bloglink> (which is a formal document confirming there is no reason why your marriage cannot be annulled).
- You then have to wait 6 weeks before you can apply for the <bloglink>'decree absolute’<bloglink>, which is the final court order that formally annuls your marriage.
As long as your spouse agrees to the annulment, you can complete this entire process without ever having to attend court.
However, if your spouse does not agree to the annulment, you will need to go to court for a contested hearing before a judge, who will decide the matter.
How Long Does It Take To Get An Annulment?
One of the key advantages of an annulment is that, unlike a divorce, you can apply within the first year of your marriage.
If you take much longer than this, the court could insist that you apply for a divorce instead - so don’t delay!
This is important, as some people prefer to get an annulment rather than officially become a ‘divorcee’.
If you both agree to the annulment, the whole process should take around six to eight months to complete (most of the delay is due to the court processing the paperwork).
If your partner does contest the annulment, you will need to argue the case in court, which will significantly add to the timeline.
And, unlike a divorce, when seeking an annulment there is no requirement to <bloglink>attend a mediation information and assessment meeting.<bloglink>
How Much Does An Annulment Cost?
If both parties agree to the annulment, many solicitors will charge a fixed fee in the region of £1500 to £2000. In addition, you will also have to pay the £550 court fee.
However, if one spouse objects to the annulment, you will need to go to court for a contested hearing. This will take a lot longer, and cost more, as your solicitor will need to produce a lot more evidence, and you will likely need a specialist barrister to represent you in court.
Overall, the price of a contested annulment will be similar to the <bloglink>price of a contested divorce.<bloglink>
You can learn more about these costs in my separate guide:
What Happens To Your Financial Settlement After An Annulment?
Many couples don’t realise that the divorce process (ending your marriage) is separate from the <bloglink>financial settlement<bloglink> (dividing your assets and debts).
The same can be true when you get an annulment.
While getting a court order to confirm you annulment is a great idea, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have severed all financial ties to your spouse.
This is important because unresolved financial claims may come back to haunt you years after your annulment has been granted.
The best way to avoid this is to get a <bloglink>formal consent order<bloglink>, agreeing what (if any) division of finances there will be after your annulment, and agreeing that neither of you can make financial claims against the other in the future.
Potential financial claims after an annulment is a complex area of law; so if you can’t agree to a consent order, you should seek legal advice on what your financial liabilities might be, and whether you need to apply to court for an order <bloglink>determining the financial settlement,<bloglink> or any other potential claims such as <bloglink>spousal maintenance.<bloglink>
A point to note: if you have a <bloglink>prenup<bloglink>, an annulment may well invalidate it. Again, this is a complex area of law, so you should seek specialist advice.
Can You Annul A Civil Partnership?
Yes- A civil partnership can be annulled just like a marriage.
However, unlike a marriage, it is not possible to annul a civil partnership on the grounds that it was not consummated.
What Alternative Is There To Getting An Annulment?
The benefits of getting an annulment are that, unlike a divorce, you don’t have to wait 12 month after your wedding before you can apply; you won’t officially be a ‘divorcee’; and you don’t need to prove that your marriage has <bloglink>irretrievably broken down.<bloglink>
So if you are eligible to apply for an annulment, it can be the easiest way to end your marriage.
However, the grouds for an annulment are quite narrow, and so you may not be eligible. Alternatively, you may have waited too long for a judge to be willing to allow an annulment, or you may find it difficult to prove one of the necessary elements (such as coercion or the fact the marriage was never consummated).
If that’s the case, then your main alternative is to apply for a divorce instead. You’ll need to wait until 12 months after the wedding before you can apply for a divorce. You can learn more in my <bloglink>guide to the no-fault divorce process.<bloglink>
Do You Need Help Paying For Your Divorce Or Annulment?
If your spouse contests your annulment your will need to ask the court to decide.
Alternatively, if you aren’t eligible for an annulment you will need to get a divorce instead.
Both routes can pose a problem for those who cannot afford to pay the costs of a lawyer upfront.
However, there are now a range of specialist funders who can help with your legal fees.
You can use the specialist funding for:
- <bloglink>Mediations sessions<bloglink>
- Solicitor led negotiations
- Going to divorce court
- And more...
Specialist funding is rapidly becoming one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to fund your divorce or contested annulment.
Check out my divorce funding page to learn more.