Nullity of marriage is a declaration by a court that your supposed marriage is null and void, and that no valid marriage exists between you and your partner. In other words, it is a declaration that the supposed marriage never happened.
Nullity (or annulment) is not the same as divorce. Divorce is a declaration ending a valid marriage. Nullity is a declaration that a valid marriage never existed.
It is important to be aware that a church annulment does not have any legal effect. It does not mean that you may legally remarry - although it may mean that you can remarry in the eyes of the church.
In nullity law, there are two types of marriages that may be annulled or cancelled. There are void marriages and there are voidable marriages.
If your marriage is void, it is regarded as never having taken place. Technically, if your marriage never took place, then there is no need to go to court to obtain a decree of annulment - you may simply act as though the marriage never happened. However, it is advisable to obtain a court order declaring that your marriage is annulled in order to remove any doubt.
If your marriage is voidable, it is considered to be a valid marriage until a decree of annulment is made.
A decree of annulment can only be made if one of the parties to the marriage applies to the court for a nullity. If the court decides that your marriage is voidable, it will then declare that your marriage was invalid from the start. Your marriage never happened.
You can find out about the implications of a decree of nullity in our document on the consequences of civil annulment of your marriage.
To prove to the court that your marriage is void you must show one of the following grounds:
- where one of you was already validly married or in a civil partnership or
- where you were too closely related to each other or
- for a marriage ceremony that took place before 16 November 2015, where you were of the same biological sex
To prove to the court that your marriage is voidable, you must show one of the following grounds:
Legal advice and representation is always advisable. You and your spouse should not use the same solicitor.
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent, voluntary organisation that operates a network of legal advice clinics throughout the country. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. Contact your nearest Citizens Information Centre for information on FLAC services in your area. FLAC also runs an information and referral line during office hours for basic legal information.
If you choose to hire a private solicitor, you should be aware that there is no fixed rate of charges for legal fees. You are advised to obtain some quotes before deciding on a legal firm. Contact information for solicitors firms throughout Ireland is available on the Law Society website.
Further information on applying is available on the Courts Service website.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.