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 the marriage. An annulment application can be made at any stage from the point you are legally married. However, to get an annulment you must prove that the marriage is either 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 the capacity of one or both of the parties, 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 (but note that 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;
- your wife was pregnant by another man when you married and you were unaware at the time of marriage;
- the other person was 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 (an application for that person to be recognised as the gender they have been living as 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, 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’ to ‘f’ above, you must apply for annulment within 3 years of the date of marriage – otherwise, you will need the permission of the court.
If you are relying on ground ‘g’, you must apply within 6 months of the interim Gender Recognition 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; there are also notes to help you on form D8N Notes. The cost of the application is £550. If you are on a low income you may be eligible for a fee exemption, which can be applied for on form EX160 (supporting notes on EX160A). Once you have filled out your petition you need to send 3 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
- Statement in Support of Annulment – Voidable Marriage
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 the civil partnership. To apply for an annulment, you must prove that the civil partnership is either 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 were not eligible to register;
- one of the parties to the civil partnership was under 16 or under 18 without the appropriate written parental consent;
- at the time of registration, both parties were aware that:
- the correct notice was not given;
- the civil partnership document was not issued;
- the civil partnership document was void; or
- the registration took 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).
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 at the time:
- either party did not give full consent (e.g. because of duress, mistake or an unsound mind);
- one party was suffering from a mental disorder;
- the other party was pregnant by someone else and you were not aware;
- you were unaware that the other person had been living as another gender or changed gender outside of the UK;
- either you or civil partner has been issued with an interim Gender Recognition Certificate within the past six months
(an application to be recognised as the gender that person has been living in or has 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 court 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 (required for divorce or dissolution), although you can rely on any of the following 5 facts:
- Unreasonable Behaviour – Actions that make it impossible to live with the other party.
- Adultery – The other party has had sex with another person.
- 2 Year Separation – The other party has to agree to this and you and the other party must been living separately for 2 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.
- 5 Year Separation – You have been living apart for 5 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 pages on Divorce and Ending A Civil Partnership.