A civil annulment or decree of nullity is a declaration by a court that a marriage or civil partnership is null and void, and that no valid marriage or civil partnership ever existed between the two people.

Civil annulment is not the same as divorce or dissolution. Divorce is a legal declaration ending a marriage (dissolution is a declaration ending a civil partnership) whereas civil annulment is a legal declaration stating that the marriage or civil partnership never existed. If a marriage or civil partnership is annulled, it also means that both parties lose any rights they enjoyed as a married person or civil partner.

A civil annulment is not the same as a church annulment. A church annulment does not have any effect in law. A church annulment does not mean that either ‘spouse’ can legally remarry; it simply means that a party to an annulled marriage can remarry in the eyes of the church.

A decree of annulment can only be made if one of the parties to the marriage or civil partnership applies to the court for a declaration of nullity. If the court decides that your marriage is voidable, it will then declare that your marriage was invalid from the start. Your marriage never happened.

Grounds for an Annulment

The grounds for securing an annulment have never been stated in a piece of legislation; rather they have been developed gradually by the courts. At present an application can be brought on the following grounds and whether or not the court grants the annulment will depend upon the view of the presiding judge:

  • At the time of the ceremony there was a lack of capacity. In other words, one of the spouses/civil partners was incapable of entering into a binding contract of marriage. For example, if they were under 18, if one of the spouses/civil partners was already validly married or in a civil partnership, if they were too closely related to each other, or if they were of the same biological sex (for marriages that took place before 16 November 2015).
  • The formal requirements for a marriage ceremony/civil partnership were not followed. For example, notice was not given to the civil registrar.
  • At the time of the marriage/civil partnership, one of the parties failed to give full, free, and informed consent. This may arise from duress, for example one party was pressurised into the union), mistake, misrepresentation, or fraud.
  • One party may not have been in a position to give full consent as he/she was suffering from a mental illness at the time of the marriage/civil partnership.
  • At the time of the ceremony, one party was impotent. In other words, they were physically incapable of sexual intercourse.
  • At the time of the ceremony, one party was incapable of entering into and sustaining a proper or normal marital or civil partnership relationship. This may be due to a psychiatric illness or personality disorder. It may also be due to the undeclared sexual orientation of one of the parties.

Consequences of an Annulment

The effects of a declaration of nullity include:

  • Both parties are free to legally marry/enter into a civil partnership.
  • Neither person can claim maintenance from the other although child maintenance may still be claimed.
  • Neither person can claim against the property of the other.
  • Nullity does not affect the rights of the dependent children and does not affect the children’s succession rights to the estate of their deceased parent(s).
  • Because the annulled marriage/civil partnership never legally existed, there are no succession rights for either former partner when the other dies.

The law in relation to nullity is complex. It may be necessary to get legal advice to establish whether the circumstances for nullity exist.


The Legal Aid Board has produced a useful overview of the process of nullity, including information on the grounds upon which an application for nullity can be based, and the impact of a decree of nullity.

The Citizens Information website provides further information on civil annulments - both the nullity of marriage and civil partnerships - including the application process and the consequences of nullity.  







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