Anulling a Marriage

Henry VIII petitioned Pope Clement VII for one in the 16th Century.  He was refused but eventually circumvented the problem by establishing the Church of England.  Basketball royalty, Dennis Rodman, successfully obtained one in 1998 on the grounds “he was too drunk to understand the wedding ceremony”.  Six years later, pop diva, Britney Spears, repeated the same feat on exactly the same grounds only with no alcohol involved!!  But what is an annulment and why would people want one?

An annulment is a determination made by a Court that a legal marriage in compliance with the requirements of Australian law did not occur.  It will only be granted if a Court can be satisfied of either:

  1. Bigamy – that is either party was at the time already married to another person.
  2. The parties were within a prohibited relationship – for example a brother marrying a sister.
  3. A defective ceremony for example, not performed by a registered Marriage Celebrant or without two witnesses.
  4. Where the consent to the marriage was obtained by duress or fraud or the party is mistaken as to the identity of the other person or the nature of the ceremony or a person who is mentally incapable of understanding the nature of the ceremony.
  5. A person is too young to be of marital age.

Grounds 1, 2, 3 and 5 are all relatively straight forward and self determinative.  Applications to the Courts under ground 4 however, have produced some interesting rulings.  In 1995 a husband sought annulment of his marriage to a women born overseas on the grounds of fraud for immigration purposes.  He alleged the marriage followed four months of long distance communication with only nine days spent physically together.  There was no physical intimacy, they never slept in the same room and the women in fact had a five year old child to one of her fellow countrymen.  In the days before the wedding, the wife insisted the husband prepare a Will naming her as sole executor and beneficiary and required him to submit to a medical examination for issue of life insurance.  Four days after the wedding, the wife left the husband and returned to live with her former de facto partner interstate and, according to the husband, had made tentative arrangements to have him killed so as to claim the insurance.  Despite all of this however, the Family Court ruled that the husband could not obtain an annulment because “fraud” had to relate either to the nature of the ceremony or the identity of the person and in this case the wife had been truthful about both of these things.

Whilst the drive to obtain an annulment might in some cases be understandable, the legal effect of an annulment is only marginally different from a divorce.  Couples to an annulled marriage are free to immediately remarry without having to wait the 12 months prior separation required for a divorce.  Beyond this feature however, rights and responsibilities such as property settlement and spousal maintenance are unaffected by an annulment.

Michael Zande is a Queensland Law Society accredited family law specialist with over 20 years experience in the field. He is the principal at Zande Law Solicitors, Suite 7, Norwinn Centre, 15 Discovery Drive, North Lakes.  To contact Michael for advice phone 3385 0999.

The information in this article is merely a guide and is not a full explanation of the law. This firm cannot take responsibility for any action readers take based on this information.  When making decisions that could affect your legal rights, please contact us for professional advice.