Nullity is a legal declaration by a court that a marriage or civil partnership never existed. It declares that although two people went through a marriage or civil partnership ceremony, the ceremony was not valid by law. Nullity is more commonly referred to as an annulment.

An annulment is not the same as a divorce or dissolution. A divorce declares that a valid marriage is ended. Similarly, a dissolution declares that a valid civil partnership is ended. However, an annulment declares that no valid marriage or civil partnership existed in the first place.

Nullity is different to a church annulment. A church annulment does not change your legal marital status.

The law in relation to nullity is very complex. A decree of nullity will have an effect on your legal rights and entitlements. You should get legal advice in order to better understand your particular situation.

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Who grants annulment of a marriage or civil partnership?

In Ireland, only the Circuit Court or High Court can grant a Decree of Nullity - also called a Decree of Annulment - if the grounds have been met. An annulment cannot be done by an out-of-court agreement between the parties.

What types of marriage or civil partnership can be annulled?

Void Marriages and Civil Partnerships

These are marriages or civil partnerships that were not valid from the start. An example of this is where one of the spouses was already married or in a civil partnership. These marriages or civil partnerships are considered by law as having never taken place.

Voidable Marriages

These are marriages that were valid marriage from the start but qualify for a decree of annulment to be granted. An example of this is where one of the spouses was impotent. Once nullity is granted, the marriage is also regarded as never having taken place.

Voidable civil partnerships do not exist in law.

Grounds for annulment

Marriages and civil partnerships can be annulled for a variety of reasons. These include but are not limited to:

Lack of capacity

This means you were unable to enter a legally binding marriage or civil partnership for reasons such as:

  • one of you was already validly married or in a civil partnership
  • you were too closely related to each other
  • one of you was under eighteen years of age
  • you were both the same biological sex (for marriages that took place before the 16th of November 2015)

Lack of consent

  • duress where either of you were forced into the marriage
  • mistake, misrepresentation or fraud
  • either of you having a mental illness
  • either of you was intoxicated

Formal requirements not followed

This means the formal registration rules were not followed, such as:

  • not giving a registrar at least three months' notice of your intention to marry
  • failing to have an exemption to that notice period granted by the court

Impotence (applies to voidable marriage only)

This means one or both of you was unable to consummate the marriage. You cannot obtain an annulment based on infertility or refusal to consummate. It must be that either of you was incapable of sexual intercourse.

Incapable of entering a relationship (applies to voidable marriage only)

This means either of you was incapable of entering into or sustaining a relationship for reasons such as:

  • psychiatric illness
  • personality disorder
  • sexual orientation

What do I need to think about after an annulment?

The most obvious result of an annulment is that your marriage or civil partnership is legally ended. It can also mean losing the rights that you had as a married person or civil partner. Annulment also means that you are free to remarry, if you wish.

Other things to think about

The aftermath of an annulment can raise issues you may need to think about. You might want to get legal advice to better understand the impacts on your particular situation.

Things to consider include:

  • how your property rights on the previously shared or family home may be affected
  • how your rights to the estate of your former spouse or civil partner may be affected
  • the effects on your right to apply for maintenance from your former spouse or partner
  • how your protection under domestic violence legislation may be affected
  • your rights to custody or access in relation to a dependent child
  • how your financial supports may be affected such as access to certain social welfare payments, tax credits, or reliefs such as mortgage relief
  • how financial settlement options differ to those following a divorce, judicial separation or dissolution