Annulment and legal separation – alternatives to divorce

Although divorce remains the most common form of ending a marriage, there are alternatives such as annulment and legal separation which are not so readily discussed and which many people are not aware of. In this blog we will consider the various alternatives to divorce.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is sometimes known as judicial separation. The procedure is very similar to the procedure for divorce. Legal separation is often an alternative where the separating couple have religious reasons not to embark on the divorce process. A legal separation has three main effects:

  1. The spouses are no longer obliged to live together;
  2. The court can exercise all the powers which it has to divorce the matrimonial property as it would with a divorce; and
  3. The decree in a legal separation has the same effect on a will as a divorce

The main difference to note between a divorce and legal separation is that legal separation does not dissolve the marriage; the parties remain legally married but their marital obligations cease and they no longer need to continue living together.

There is some scope for older couples to separate under a legal separation rather than divorce as one who is judicially separated may still be eligible for benefits under a pension scheme. Other than this or religious reasons, there is little benefit to separating through a legal separation rather than a divorce.


Unlike a divorce, either party can apply for an annulment of the marriage at any time (there is an absolute bar on any petitions for divorce less than one year after the marriage). Again, an annulment may be sought for religious reasons, rather than petitioning for divorce.

There are two types of annulments; there are ‘void’ marriages and ‘voidable’ marriages. A void marriage means that the marriage was never valid at the time it was entered into. These would include situations where:-

  • the parties are closely related; or
  • one or both parties were under the age of 16; or
  • one or both parties were already married

A voidable marriage is one which could potentially be annulled if for example:

  • the marriage was not consummated; or
  • consent was not given because one or both parties were drunk or forced into it; or
  • the woman was pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage

The annulment process is again similar to the divorce process; however, as mentioned above there is no time bar on bringing a nullity petition although the court will need to hear oral evidence which will be given to the court on oath.

The alternatives to divorce can be complex and it is important that you take legal advice early on. Serving Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes, our lawyers can help you with your family law and divorce matters. Our experienced solicitors at Hunter & Uro will help you choose the right course of action. Contact us on 01234 889777 for more information.


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  1. Pingback: Divorce petition after the first year of marriage - Hunter &Uro Solicitors

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