What do Kim Kardashian, Henry VIII and Britney Spears all have in common…
What do they have in common? It could be almost be a joke but the answer is annulment which is not funny at all. Far from being an archaic practice, annulment is still widely used and we need look no further than Hollywood for celebrities who have either filed for or received annulment petitions from their not so significant other: Kim Kardashian, Renee Zellweger, Dennis Rodman, Pamela Anderson, citing factors including fraud and unsound mind, and who each filed for annulment of their marriages within a few months of taking their vows.
A record-breaking annulment feat, Britney Spears famously married her childhood sweetheart, Jason Allen Alexander on 4th January 2004 at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Then, on 5th January 2004 she filed for annulment citing lack of understanding of her actions at the time; in other words, she was quite possibly inebriated.
However, annulment is not just for the rich, famous and intoxicated. It is a very sensitive subject and is often deeply distressing. I was once approached by a client who had been married for just over a year. He revealed that despite repeated attempts of being affectionate and close to his wife she remained cold and distant and as a consequence the marriage had not been consummated. He was frustrated by his wife’s refusal to acknowledge the problem and he wanted advice on how to end his marriage.
In another case I was contacted by a young woman who explained to me that 2 years ago she was taken abroad by her parents and forced to marry a relative against her wishes. She had since then returned to the UK but did not accept the marriage and wanted it to end. My advice in both cases was annulment.
Commencing nullity proceedings or annulment as it is also known is often overlooked by separating couples. However, in certain circumstances annulment may be preferable to issuing divorce. Annulment is a declaration by the court that there was never a marriage and as such it reverses the couple’s status to the position that they were in before they got married. In this way, annulment is different from divorce which recognises a marriage but declares that it has broken down.
There are many reasons why you might consider annulment over divorce. Some people don’t want the stigma of being a divorcee or there may be cultural or religious reasons for getting an annulment. In the past annulment was the only way to separate from your spouse as divorce was forbidden by the Church. Those avid historians amongst you may be aware that King Henry VIII, who married 6 times, had two of his marriages annulled.
Grounds for annulment
In the UK, there are two types of annulment. The first type of annulment declares that the marriage is void. This means that the marriage never existed in the first place. The second type of annulment declares the marriage is voidable. This means that the marriage is valid until a declaration by the court is made.
A marriage is void if, for example, either of the couples:
1. are closely related;
2. are of the same sex;
3. were under 16 at the time of the marriage; or
4. were already married or in a civil partnership at the time of the marriage.
A marriage is voidable (defective) if:
1. the marriage has not been consummated since the date of marriage due to incapacity of either party.
2. the marriage has not been consummated since the date of the marriage due to the wilful refusal of the other party.
3. either of the parties did not consent to the marriage, for example a forced marriage.
4. either of the parties had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the marriage and the other party was not aware of this.
5. the woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage.
One of the most common sighted reasons for commencing annulment is as a result of non-consummation of marriage, however it also one of the most difficult to prove.
The grounds of annulment cover an array of situations. If one of these are applicable to you, you may wish to consider issuing annulment proceedings. There are some benefits to an annulment over a divorce. However there are also some drawbacks which should be taken into account by anybody considering an annulment.
The Pros and Cons of Annulment
An annulment petition is dealt with in much the same way as for a divorce petition, except that there is no time limit on when an annulment petition can be presented. This means that unlike divorce where you have to be married for at least a year before you can start divorce proceedings, there are no such requirements for annulment. For those who don’t want to wait around for a year before starting separation proceedings this may be ideal.
One thing to be aware of is that unlike uncontested divorce proceedings where neither party is required to attend court; annulment requires both parties to attend court and if required to give oral evidence. This invariably means an increase in legal costs. The other issue of concern in commencing an annulment is whether or not the other party will agree to proceedings. If you are thinking of starting annulment proceedings it may be wise to speak to the other party first and find out whether they will agree. They may not be as happy with the idea of annulment especially if the reason is to do with their inability to consummate the marriage. In cases where the other party contests the annulment this can result in complicated and lengthy court proceedings, including the detailed examination of medical evidence to either prove or disprove the non-consummation.
As with divorce, in annulment proceedings you can make a claim for a financial order. It is a common misconception that there can be no financial settlement in annulment proceedings. This is beneficial to those considering an annulment with matrimonial property or assets which may need to be divided. You can also make arrangements for childcare, maintenance and contact for any children who are either under the age of 16, or, under the age of 18 and in education.
Annulment can be a very suitable alternative to divorce and should be managed carefully to ensure you achieve the desired result. If you have any queries about seeking an annulment or divorce and would like to discuss either in more detail, please contact the family department at Saracens Solicitors.