Divorce vs Annulment: Understanding The Differences
Divorce dissolves a legally valid marriage, whereas an annulment declares a marriage to have never been legally valid in the first place. The processes are different, with their own eligibility criteria, requirements, timelines, and outcomes.
As an expert family law firm with extensive experience in managing such separations, Eric Robinson Solicitors aims to demystify legal processes so that it can work with its clients to get the best possible outcomes for them. If you are looking at starting a separation, this guide should help you understand whether a Divorce or Annulment is right for your situation.
What Is A Divorce
A divorce is the legal ending of a marriage, it doesn’t question the legal validity of the marriage. Divorces are much more common than annulments, according to government statistics 28,865 applications were made between January and March 2023 alone.
In the UK, there are only two eligibility criteria to divorce your spouse:
- You have been married for at least one year.
- The relationship has broken down.
On 6 April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was implemented. This brought in ‘no-fault divorce’ which means that applicants don’t need to prove fault on either side, effectively reducing the need for ‘blame’. All that needs to be stated is that the marriage has irrevocably broken down.
How To File For A Divorce
Firstly, you must decide whether you want to make a joint application with your husband or wife or whether you want to apply on your own.
The Applicant(s) then files their application with the Court online, the fee for doing so is currently £593.
The respondent (person being divorced) is then sent the application. They need to confirm receipt, and if the respondent does not dispute the divorce proceedings, the applicant can apply for the conditional order 20 weeks later. This is the first part of the two-stage divorce order.
The final divorce order, which brings the marriage to an end formally, can be applied for 6 weeks and one day after the conditional order is granted. Once the final order is issued, the divorce is legally binding and final, regardless of whether you continue your relationship or not.
This process is best conducted under the expert care of a family law solicitor such as those at Eric Robinson who will guide you through each stage.
The Division Of Assets And Arrangements For Children
As divorces typically occur a period of time after the marriage itself, it is common to have property interests and children to consider when formally separating.
During the divorce process, the first step for the couple is to attempt to reach an agreement over financial division and child arrangements without third party involvement. Other options include using an independent mediator, or discussing matters with solicitors. Each of these routes avoid court proceedings.
What Is An Annulment?
An annulment ends a marriage on the grounds that it was never valid in the first place. Most couples looking to annul their marriages will do so within the first year, and theoretically marriages which are truly ‘void’ (more on this below) can be treated as such without the need for a legal declaration.
Most annulments, however, are obtained to be certain of this, because they qualify for ‘voidable’ criteria which is less clean-cut, and to resolve any financial issues.
What Are The Grounds For An Annulment?
To obtain an annulment in the UK, the parties:
- Must have lived in England or Wales for at least one year
- Have to have had a permanent residence in England or Wales for six months.
- Can have been married for any length of time
The grounds for an annulment can be split into two. These are the reasons that marriage is ‘void’ and the reasons that the marriage is ‘voidable’.
A ‘void’ marriage is based on an illegal act. These are if:
- You or your partner were under the age of 16 when you married
- You are closely related, read up on the family relationships wherein marriage is prohibited here
- One of you was married to someone else or in a civil partnership when you married
A ‘voidable’ marriage exists until it is declared to be illegitimate. These applies if:
- The couple didn’t consummate the marriage because of incapacity or wilful refusal. This is not the case for same sex couples, the Marriage Act (2013) states that non-consummation cannot be a grounds on which a marriage of a same sex couple is voidable.
- One of the parties didn’t give proper consent to marry due to alcohol, drugs or coercion, for example.
- One of the parties was pregnant with another man’s child when they married.
- One of the parties had a contagious sexually transmitted disease when they married.
- One of the parties was in the process of obtaining gender recognition when they married.
How To Obtain An Annulment
Firstly, one of the parties needs to submit a nullity application, which currently costs £593.
The other party must respond within 14 days, either agreeing with or disputing the annulment. It can cause delays if they do choose to dispute.
Once they respond, you can apply for a conditional order, which confirms that the court does not see any reason why the marriage should not be annulled. 6 weeks later, you can apply for a decree absolute, which is a legal document formally declaring the marriage annulled.
The Implications Of An Annulment
Gaining an annulment means that a marriage never existed in the eyes of the law. There can be unexpected consequences of this because if a marriage is considered void, the court will not apply the same principles regarding the division of assets as in the case of divorce.
For example, it can impact on maintenance support for any children, and it might make it harder for one party to claim any rights to property that belonged to the other pre-marriage. It is important to consult a family law solicitor such as those at Eric Robinson to guide you through the process.
Conversely, an annulment can be the preferable option for many people. As annulments typically take place so soon after marriage, it is easier for people to be returned to their pre-marriage state in terms of assets and obligations. It can also be a preferable option for some religious people who do not want to be considered divorced.
So Which Option Is Best For Me?
Firstly, look into your eligibility for both an annulment and a divorce. Familiarise yourself with those ‘void’ and ‘voidable’ criteria and speak to a family law solicitor to confirm whether or not an annulment is even an option.
If you are able to choose between the two, personal sensibilities, religious beliefs and the extent of shared assets and childcare responsibilities will all play a role in your decision.
Taking sound advice is the best way to determine the correct path for your unique situation. Speak to Eric Robinson Solicitors today to be guided through the process both with efficiency, and sensitivity.