Annulment of Marriage vs Divorce: What’s the Difference?

When most people think about ending a marriage, divorce normally comes to mind. You and your spouse agree to marry, but one or the other (or both) can decide to end the marriage formally with a divorce.

There is another way out of marriage, however, and that is through a decree of nullity (or annulment). What is an annulment? Is it possible to have a marriage rendered void through annulment instead of getting a divorce? We’ll go through the basics below to give you an idea.

Marriage Annulment

A marriage annulment is method of rendering the marriage null and void. You might be thinking it’s essentially the same thing as a divorce. After all, both spouses are no longer married at the end of the day so it’s really ‘to-may-to, to-mah-to’ isn’t it?

It is important to note that an annulment is retroactive and technically doesn’t terminate the marriage. Instead, it simply declares that the marriage was never valid to begin with.

In Australia, annulment and the decree of nullity are outlined in the Family Law Act 1975. Cases of annulment in Australia are quite rare, but they do happen from time to time.

Historically, annulment was a sought-after means of ending a marriage by monarchs in the mediaeval period. Notably, King Henry VIII of England sought annulment of marriage from the Pope with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, based on many different arguments.

You may recall from history class that his attempts to render his first marriage void through annulment failed (divorce was not an option) and ultimately caused the enraged King to break relations with the Catholic Church and to establish the Anglican Church, where he could marry, divorce, and behead his wives as he pleased.

Divorce in Australia

Divorce is a much more well-known process in Australia and elsewhere. Two spouses agree to marry, then if one or the other decides things aren’t working out can file for divorce to formally end the marriage. A simple and straightforward idea, but litigious and costly for many in reality.

National Family Lawyers provides assistance with a wide range of family law matters, including divorce, and we welcome you to read more about divorces in Australia through our blog.

Can My Marriage Be Declared Void?

It depends. In order to have a marriage nullified (annulment), the marriage must be proved void. Circumstances under which a marriage is void include:

  • One or both spouses was already married at the time of marriage;
  • Both spouses are too closely related by blood;
  • The marriage proceedings were not in compliance with marriage laws in the jurisdiction where they were married;
  • One or both spouses was under the age of 16 at the time of marriage;
  • One or both spouses was coerced or otherwise forced into marriage.

Consequences of a Void Marriage

If a marriage is found to be void, the decree of nullity can be made. In doing so, the decree of nullity renders the marriage completely void, as if it had never happened.

Under these circumstances, the decree of nullity takes full precedence and supersedes any attempts to file for divorce. In other words, if a marriage is annulled, any divorce applications are irrelevant because the marriage ‘never happened.’

In reality, however, there may be consequences that arise out of an annulled marriage. It is advised that you consult with a family law expert to assist with these specific matters and others related to family law in Australia.

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