Nullity of civil partnership
What is nullity?
A decree of nullity is a declaration by a court that your civil partnership is void and never existed in the eyes of the law. It means no valid civil partnership ever existed between you and your partner. Nullity is more commonly referred to as an annulment.
A civil partnership may be void because some defect or impediment existed when the civil partnership was registered, for example, if one of you was under 18 years old at the time the civil partnership was registered.
Nullity is not the same as dissolution. Nullity is a declaration that a valid civil partnership never existed in the first place. Dissolution is a declaration ending a valid civil partnership.
How to apply for an annulment
The court can grant an annulment for the following reasons:
- At the time of the registration of the civil partnership there was a lack of capacity. In other words, you or your partner was incapable of entering into a binding civil partnership contract. This may happen:
- if one of you was already validly married or in a civil partnership
- if you were too closely related to each other
- if you were of opposite biological sex
- if one of you was under 18 years of age
- The formal requirements for the registration of a civil partnership were not followed. For example, you did not give due notice to the civil registrar.
- At the time of the registration of the civil partnership, there was a lack of consent. In other words, you or your partner did not give free and fully informed consent to the civil partnership. This may be due to duress, for example, you were forced into the civil partnership. It may also be due to the fact that you or your partner was suffering from a mental illness at that time.
If the court decides that your civil partnership is void for whatever reason, it will then declare that your civil partnership never existed.
Technically, if your civil partnership never took place, then there is no need to go to court to get a decree of annulment - you may simply act as though the civil partnership never happened. However, it is advisable to get a court order declaring that your civil partnership is annulled in order to remove any doubt.
What are the consequences of nullity?
The most obvious consequence of a court declaration of nullity is that you are now entitled to marry.
If you had already married or entered into a new civil partnership* before an order of annulment was made by the court, your new marriage or civil partnership may have appeared invalid. However, once the annulment order is granted in respect of the earlier civil partnership, your later marriage or civil partnership is validated, as your first civil partnership has now been declared invalid.
If your civil partnership is annulled, it also means that you lose the rights that you had as a civil partner. This means:
- The home that you shared with your former partner is no longer a shared home. If your former partner is the legal owner of the house, they can sell or lease it without your consent.
- Under the Succession Act 1965, when a civil partner dies, the surviving civil partner is legally entitled to a share of their estate whether or not they have left a will. As your civil partnership never happened, you do not have any succession rights if your former partner dies.
- If your civil partnership has been annulled, you do not have a right to apply to the court to order your former partner to pay maintenance to support you, as only civil partners may apply to a court for an order for maintenance.
- A court can also make orders in relation to the unfitness (or unsuitability) of one the former partners to have custody in respect of any dependent child.
*Since 16 November 2015, you can no longer register a civil partnership. Couples already in a civil partnership can apply to marry or remain as they are in the civil partnership.
Further information on nullity and the forms used to apply is available on the Courts Service website.
Legal advice and representation is always advisable. You and your partner 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 throughout Ireland is available on the Law Society website.