Divorces & Annulments: How are they different?

The dissolution of a marriage can come in two primary forms: an annulment or a divorce. Understanding the differences between these two legal processes may be necessary if you are coming to terms with the fact that your marriage is no longer best for you and your partner. 

Divorces & Annulments: How are they different?

 Defining the terms

divorce is a legal dissolution, termination, and ending of a legally valid marriage. Divorce proceedings take place to finalise the ending of legal marriage for a specific reason which requires substantial evidence (i.e. adultery, separation). In the eyes of the court, a divorce deems both parties official single following a period of matrimony.

 An annulment, on the other hand, is a legal ruling which erases a marriage altogether. It does so by declaring the marriage null and void, positing that the union was never lawful. Annulments require one or both of the parties involved to believe that something was legally invalid about the marriage from the start.

Grounds for Divorce

A divorce is grantable when you can prove that your marriage has broken down beyond repair. To confirm that your marriage is beyond saving, you must provide evidence for one or more of the five following facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Separation for a continuous period exceeding two years
  • Two years separation and both parties consenting to the divorce
  • Five years separation with one party desiring a divorce

Often, in what is called a ‘no-fault divorce,’ a couple will cite ‘irreconcilable differences’ as their primary grounds for divorce. Regardless of the reason, however, divorces often require legal intervention to divide assets such as property, finances, and child custody. In terms of time requirements, a couple must be married for one full year to file for divorce. 

If you believe you and your partner are at a point in your marriage where 1) the likelihood of reconciliation is impossible, 2) you have been married for over one year, 3) one of you is a resident of England or Wales, and 4) you can provide evidence for one of the five facts listed above, you can apply for a divorce here. There is a requisite £550 application fee for the initial divorce petition, and you will need to follow the steps of acquiring a decree nisi and decree absolute.

Grounds for Annulment

An annulment is possible where marriage is either void or voidable. A void marriage means specific rules were broken from the outset.

These conditions include:

  • Either party under the age of 16 at the time of marriage
  • The parties were married in a place not registered to perform matrimony ceremonies
  • Either of the parties was already lawfully married or civilly partnered at the time of the marriage
  • The parties are prohibited by the degree of relationship (i.e. mother/son)

 A voidable marriage means that based on specific circumstances, the marriage can be considered invalid: These conditions include:

  • An unconsummated marriage because of the incapacity of either party to do so
  • An unconsummated marriage because one party refuses
  • Non-voluntary consent to the marriage because one party was under the influence of alcohol, coercion, or mental instability
  • The woman was pregnant with the man’s child at the time of the marriage
  • An interim gender recognition certificate issuance to either party after the marriage

If you believe any of these circumstances fit your situation, you can apply for an annulment here. There is no requisite wait period for annulments. You can apply as soon as you see fit. You will need to fill in a “nullity petition” and send two copies to your nearest divorce court. The nullity petition costs a set fee of £550. Once your nullity petition has been granted, you can apply for a decree nisi and decree absolute, similar to a more traditional divorce.


Once you feel confident that your marriage is beyond repair, do not wait to get in touch with a family law solicitor for legal advice and support. They can help clarify whether an annulment or a divorce is appropriate for your specific situation, and guide you through the process swiftly.

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