Annulment vs Divorce: The Key Differences


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Making the decision to end your marriage is never an easy one. It brings up a lot of different choices, such as who will live in the family home, how assets will be split and decisions around care for children. Another decision faced by separating couples is the route the will take to end their marriage – annulment vs divorce.

It is important that parties understand the key differences between ending their marriage via annulment and through divorce.

Annulment vs Divorce: What is a Divorce?

Divorce is the legal process by which a married couple formally ends their marriage. Divorce proceedings involve a series of legal steps and procedures to dissolve the marital union and address related issues such as property division, spousal support, child custody, and child support. 

Divorce legally dissolves a marriage, freeing both individuals to remarry if they choose.

Following the introduction of no-fault divorce, the requirements for obtaining a divorce have been simplified. he only ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This can be established without needing to prove fault or blame on either party.

There is no need to provide evidence of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation. The emphasis is on a mutual understanding that the marriage has ended.

Annulment vs Divorce: What is an Annulment?

An annulment is a legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed. Unlike a divorce, which ends a legally valid marriage, an annulment treats the marriage as though it was never legally valid in the first place.

Technically, both parties do not need to agree to an annulment. Since it is a declaration that the marriage was either not valid or is now ‘voidable,’ there are usually not many grounds for disagreement. However, if one spouse disagrees, it can extend the process and is more likely to necessitate a court hearing.

As an annulment means the marriage was void, parties are free to remarry. However, the financial relationship between the spouses will remain unless an application for financial settlement is made to the court. This will allow for all matrimonial assets to be divided formally.

To obtain an annulment, parties must demonstrate that the marriage was either void or voidable:

Void Marriages:

These are marriages that were never legally valid. Grounds for a void marriage include:

  • Bigamy: One spouse was already married or in a civil partnership with someone else at the time of the marriage.
  • Prohibited degrees of relationship: The spouses are closely related.
  • Underage: One or both spouses were under the legal age of 16 at the time of marriage.
  • Non-compliance with formalities: The marriage did not comply with legal formalities.

Voidable Marriages:

These are marriages that were valid at the time of the ceremony but can be declared void for specific reasons. Grounds for a voidable marriage include:

  • Non-consummation: The marriage has not been consummated due to incapacity or refusal. However, this is not a valid reason for same sex couples.
  • Lack of consent: One spouse did not give valid consent to the marriage due to duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind, or otherwise.
  • Mental illness: One spouse was suffering from a mental disorder of such a kind to be unfit for marriage.
  • Sexually transmitted disease: One person had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of marriage, unknown to the other spouse.
  • Pregnancy by another: One spouse was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage.

Parties can apply for an annulment immediately after getting married and at any point thereafter. However, it’s important to note that if they do not apply within the first year, there may be questions raised about the reasons for the delay.

A civil partnership can be annulled similarly to a marriage, with the exception that a civil partnership between a same-sex couple cannot be terminated by nullity due to non-consummation of the relationship.

Annulment Vs Divorce – Key differences

Legal Validity:

  • Annulment: Declares that the marriage was never legally valid.
  • Divorce: Ends a legally valid marriage.


  • Annulment: Requires specific grounds such as bigamy, non-consummation, lack of consent, or prohibited degrees of relationship.
  • Divorce: Involves the ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, typically following no-fault procedures.

Time Frame:

  • Annulment: Can be sought at any time after the marriage, but there are specific time limits for certain grounds (e.g., within three years for non-consummation).
  • Divorce: Couples can file for divorce after one year of marriage.


  • Annulment: Treats the marriage as if it never existed.
  • Divorce: Recognises the marriage existed and legally ends it.

 Financial Settlements:

  • Annulment: Applications for financial settlements can be similar to those in a divorce but may be affected by the nature of the marriage being declared void.
  • Divorce: Standard financial settlements apply, including property division, spousal support, and child arrangements. 

Social and Religious Implications:

  • Annulment: Some religious institutions may only recognise annulments and not divorces, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Divorce: Generally recognised in civil law but may have different implications in certain religious contexts.

How can Expert Family Law assist?

Expert Family Law have a panel of divorce solicitors who can advise and assist on any aspect of your case. They can help you make the right decision regarding the method used for ending your marriage, weighing up the key differences between annulment vs divorce.

The solicitors on our panel offer fixed fee and hourly rate fees.

Please note, we are not a firm of solicitors. If you contact us, we may pass your case onto a solicitor from our panel. Our panel firms pay fees to contribute to the upkeep of our website.

Each solicitor we work with is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

Whether you are going through a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, our panel of family law solicitors will provide pragmatic legal advice and assistance.


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