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If you are considering ending your marriage in Australia, one legal option you may pursue is annulment. Annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed. It differs from divorce, which is the legal dissolution of a valid marriage. Annulment is a relatively rare and complex legal procedure that requires meeting specific criteria. The laws and procedures for annulment may vary slightly by jurisdiction in Australia.

What is the Meaning of Marriage Annulled?

Marriage annulment is a legal procedure that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed. Essentially, it legally voids the marriage as if it never took place, and the parties are considered to have never been married. Annulment is different from divorce, which is the legal dissolution of a valid marriage. When a marriage is annulled, it is as if the marriage never occurred, and the parties are returned to their pre-marital status as if they were never married in the eyes of the law.


The grounds for annulment vary by jurisdiction, but they generally involve situations where the marriage was void ab initio, meaning it was invalid from the beginning. Common grounds for annulment include situations where one or both parties were already married, or in a prohibited relationship, such as close relatives, at the time of the marriage. Also where there was a lack of consent due to fraud, duress, or mental incapacity. Other grounds may include issues such as underage marriage without proper parental consent, bigamy, or where the marriage was not properly solemnised or registered.


In order to obtain an annulment of marriage in Australia, it is necessary to obtain a decree of nullity as per Section 51 of the Family Law Act 1975. A declaration of nullity is used to establish that the marriage is void, despite the occurrence of a marriage ceremony. The process of annulment differs significantly from divorce, as it declares the marriage to be invalid from its inception.


To initiate a marriage annulment in Australia, an application must be submitted to the Family Court of Australia. Only individuals who meet certain criteria are eligible to apply for an annulment. This includes being an Australian citizen, residing in Australia, considering Australia as their permanent home, or having ordinarily lived in Australia for at least 12 months prior to the application.

Divorce or Annulment?

Divorce is the legal termination of a valid marriage, resulting in the marriage coming to an end after the separation of the two parties. On the other hand, annulment treats a marriage as if it never took place. It is a legal declaration that deems a marriage null and void from the very beginning, which is referred to as a decree of nullity. Unlike a divorce application, there is no requirement for a specific period of separation to have taken place before applying for an annulment with the Court.


A marriage that is considered void due to being based on an illegal act can be automatically annulled. However, in the case of a voidable marriage, which may have legal reasons for being invalidated, the marriage will not be annulled unless one of the spouses applies for an annulment.


To apply for a decree of nullity of marriage for a voidable marriage, you must meet one of the following criteria:


  • Be an Australian citizen.
  • Consider Australia as your permanent home or ordinarily live in Australia.
  • Have done so for at least 12 months prior to making the application.

If none of these circumstances apply to you, then you would need to have been separated for 12 months and apply for a Divorce Order if you wish to terminate the marriage.


When filing for divorce, it is only necessary to prove that the relationship has broken down. In contrast, to obtain an annulment, one must establish that one person was at fault.


Under Sharia Law, there is no significant difference between an annulment and a divorce. Anyone can apply for a divorce, but women may need their husband’s consent. Similarly, in an annulment, both parties must be present in a Court hearing.


In the Catholic Church, divorce is not recognised. Even if a legal divorce is obtained according to civil law, the status in the Catholic Church remains unchanged. This means that if one wishes to remarry within the Church while their former spouse is still alive, it is not possible. However, the Church does allow remarriage if the previous marriage has been annulled.


To remarry in the Catholic Church, one must obtain a secular annulment from a Church Tribunal. The presiding officers of the Church Tribunal are usually priests or other members of the Catholic community. Sufficient evidence is required for the Tribunal to determine that the marriage is not binding.

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How to Apply for Annulment of Marriage?

Here is a general overview of how to apply for an annulment of marriage in Australia:


Understand the Grounds For Annulment


In Australia, there are limited grounds for annulment, and they are typically more restrictive than those for divorce. The grounds for annulment include situations where the marriage was void ab initio, meaning it was invalid from the beginning. For example, if one or both parties were already married or in a prohibited relationship, such as close relatives, at the time of the marriage, the marriage is considered void and can be annulled. Other grounds may include lack of consent due to fraud, duress, or mental incapacity, or if one party was underage and did not have proper parental consent.


Obtain the Necessary Forms


Once you have determined that you meet the criteria for annulment, you will need to obtain the appropriate forms from the Family Court of Australia or the relevant state or territory court where your marriage was registered. These forms typically include an application for annulment, which will require you to provide details about your marriage, the grounds for annulment, and any supporting evidence by way of an affidavit.


Prepare Supporting Evidence


To support your application for annulment, you may need to provide evidence that establishes the grounds for annulment. This may include documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, affidavits from witnesses, medical reports, or other relevant evidence. It is important to carefully review the requirements for evidence and seek legal advice from family lawyers if needed to ensure that you have sufficient and relevant documentation to support your case.


Lodge the Application with the Court


Once you have completed the application forms and gathered the necessary evidence, you will need to lodge the application with the appropriate court. You may need to pay a filing fee, which can vary depending on the court and jurisdiction, such as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia. After you have lodged the application, the court will set a hearing date and provide you with further instructions on the next steps.


Attend the Court Hearing


Annulment applications in Australia typically require a court hearing. This is where you and your spouse may be required to attend and present your case. The court will consider the evidence and determine whether the grounds for annulment have been met. If the court grants the annulment, the marriage will be declared null and void, as if it never existed.


Obtain a Decree of Nullity


If the court grants the annulment, you will receive a decree of nullity, which is a legal document that officially declares the marriage null and void. This decree can be used as proof that your marriage has been annulled, and it may be necessary to update your personal records, such as your passport or driver’s license, to reflect your new marital status.


If you have concerns about the validity of your marriage and are considering an annulment, our top family lawyers in Sydney offer a complimentary initial consultation to discuss your eligibility and options.


Our team can help assess the likelihood of a successful application for a decree of nullity in your specific circumstances. We can also provide information on the potential implications of obtaining an annulment, including how it may affect other aspects of your family law matters such as parenting issues, property settlement, and spousal maintenance. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation.


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