Information

Alternatives to ending a marriage or civil partnership

This guide provides information on the alternatives to ending a marriage or civil partnership which are annulment and judicial separation. It explains the grounds and the process.

Divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership may not always be the most appropriate remedy in your situation. There are alternatives to divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership: annulment and judicial separation

When can a marriage be annulled?

To annul a marriage means to legally end your marriage. An annulment application can be made at any stage from the time you have married. However to get an annulment you must prove either that the marriage is void or voidable.

A void marriage

In some circumstances a marriage may not be not legally valid and therefore void. A marriage will be void if:

  • one of the parties to the marriage is under 16
  • you are closely related; or
  • One of the parties is already married/in a civil partnership (i.e. bigamy or polygamy).

If your marriage is not legally valid the court will treat it as if the marriage had never taken place.

A voidable marriage

If there was a problem with the marriage formalities or a question of capacity then a marriage will be defective and therefore voidable. A marriage will be voidable if:

  • it wasn’t consummated – you haven’t had sex with the person you married since the wedding either through incapacity or wilful refusal. Note: a same-sex spouse cannot rely on lack of consummation to annul their marriage.
  • you did not consent to the marriage (e.g. duress, forced marriage, mistake, incapacity or otherwise).
  • one of the parties was suffering from a mental disorder
  • the other person had a sexually transmitted disease when you married and you were unaware at the time of marriage
  • the woman was pregnant by another man when you married and you were unaware at the time of marriage
  • the other person has been living as another gender or changed gender outside of the UK and you were unaware at the time of marriage
  • either you or the other person has been issued an interim Gender Recognition Certificate in the past six months. This means that either of you have applied to be recognised as the gender you have been living in or have changed to outside of the UK.

Note: if you convert a civil partnership into a marriage and any of the above circumstances apply then the marriage will also be voidable.

If your marriage is voidable the court will treat the marriage as valid up until the date of annulment.

If you are relying on grounds b – f above then you must apply for annulment within three years of the date of marriage. If it has been longer than three years you will need the permission of the court.

If you are relying on ground g you must apply within six months of the interim gender certificate being issued.

How do I apply for annulment of marriage?

If you wish to apply for an annulment you need to complete form D8N. This can be obtained here and there are D8N (Notes) to help you complete the form which can be accessed here. The cost of this application is £550. If you are on a low income you may be eligible for a fee exemption and for information on this please see the EX160 form. Once you have filled out your petition you need to send three copies to your local Family Court.

The Respondent (your spouse) has 8 days to respond to the petition.

If the Respondent agrees then you need to apply for a decree nisi of nullity which is on form D84. A statement in support must also be filed. This will be either:

  • statement in support of annulment – void marriage form D80F
  • statement in support of annulment – voidable marriage form D80G

Once your decree nisi has been granted you then need to apply for a decree absolute or decree of nullity using form D36. You can only apply for this 6 weeks after the decree nisi is granted.

Only when you have received your decree absolute or decree of nullity will the marriage be annulled.

When can a civil partnership be annulled?

To annul a civil partnership means to legally end your civil partnership. To apply for an annulment you must prove either that the civil partnership is void or voidable.

A void civil partnership

In some circumstances a civil partnership may not be not legally valid and therefore void. A civil partnership will be void if:

  • the proposed civil partners are not eligible to register
  • at the time of registration both parties are aware that the correct notice has not been given, the civil partnership document was not issued, the civil partnership document is void or the registration has taken place somewhere other than that stated in the civil partnership document. (for details on the correct formalities for entering and registering a civil partnership see our information page on Civil Partnership)
  • one of the parties to the civil partnership is under 16 or under 18 without the appropriate written parental consent.

If your civil partnership is not legally valid the court will treat it as if the civil partnership had never taken place.

A voidable civil partnership

If a civil partnership is defective in some way it could be voidable. A civil partnership will be voidable if:

  • Either party did not give full consent (e.g. because of duress, mistake or an unsound mind)
  • At the time of one party was suffering from a mental disorder
  • At the time the other party was pregnant by some person other than you and you were not aware.
  • the other person has been living as another gender or changed gender outside of the UK and you were unaware at the time of the civil partnership
  • either you or the other person has been issued an interim Gender Recognition Certificate in the past six months. This means that either of you have applied to be recognised as the gender you have been living in or have changed to outside of the UK.

If your civil partnership is voidable the court will treat the civil partnership as valid up until the date of annulment.

What is Judicial Separation?

A Judicial Separation is a request for the courts to recognise you as legally separated from your spouse or civil partner. It is commonly used if you do not wish to divorce or end a civil partnership for religious reasons or you have not been married/in a civil partnership for a year (and you are therefore unable to obtain a divorce or dissolution).

For a judicial separation you do not need to prove that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down which is required for divorce or dissolution, however you can rely on any of the following five facts:

  • Unreasonable Behaviour –actions that make it impossible to live with the other party.
  • Adultery – the other party has had sex with another person.
  • Two Years’ Separation – the other party has to agree to this and you and the other party must been living separately for two years.
  • Desertion – the other party has left the matrimonial home without a good reason or your consent and you have not been living with each other for 2 years out of the last 2.5 years.
  • Five Years’ Separation – you have been living apart for five years prior to the application being made. Please note that the other party does not need to consent to this.

To apply for a judicial separation you need to complete form D8. The cost of this application is £365. If you are on a low income you may be eligible for a fee exemption and can complete form EX160.

The court can grant a decree of judicial separation which means you no longer need to live with the other person. It does not dissolve the marriage or civil partnership, but can later be amended in court to dissolution on the same facts. For more information see our page on Divorce and our page on Civil Partnership.