Understanding the Law
June 10, 2005
Annulment of a marriage

After looking at how a divorce ends or dissolves a marriage we can now look at annulment that can also end a ‘marriage’. Under the Matrimonial causes Act, an annulment or nullity of marriage is a declaration by the High Court that the marriage is invalid or that the marital status never existed. This declaration is made on a successful application by one of the marital partners. One could go through an elaborate ceremony on the wedding day but unless everything was done in accordance with the law the marriage could be declared invalid. You may hear your lawyer use the words void or voidable. Where the marriage is void it is invalid and nothing could be done to make it legal. {{more}}Where it is voidable it is legal until annulled. Hence one person has to take action to bring the marriage to an end.

When can a marriage be void?

If the female was less than 14 years or the male less than 16 years at the time of the marriage then the marriage is void. It is hardly likely for this to happen because the applicants are usually asked to provide valid birth certificates when application is made for the marriage licence. A marriage could be void where the parties were already validly married. In short where a party marries without a valid divorce. Here again this occurrence is rare because one is expected to state one’s marital status at the time of the application and a person who was married previously is asked to provide a decree absolute. A marriage is also void where the parties are not male and female respectively.

What is a voidable marriage?

If a marriage is voidable one of the parties could approach the court for declaration to end the marriage. That party must however give reasons why the marriage must end. Some of the grounds that will move the court to make a declaration are given below. It must be shown that: the marriage has not been consummated because one of the parties is incapable of having sexual intercourse or that the other party willfully refuses to consummate the marriage; one of the parties was under duress, that is, force was used to compel him/her to a marriage; there was no consent to the marriage because one person was under duress or a mistake was made or one party was of unsound mind; the other person was able to give consent but that person was unfit for marriage because that person was of unsound mind according to the Mental Health Act; the wife was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage; the other party was suffering from a venereal disease that could be communicated.

If the application is successful, the court could make orders similar to those in a divorce. It will give financial relief to the parties and the children of the family and will take into consideration the same factors as those in divorce. For example, it will consider the income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of the parties. It will also consider the needs of the parties and the children among others.