My Marriage was Short. Can I get an annulment?

Sean was a whirlwind. When he rang to arrange his appointment, he sounded like he needed to be somewhere else in a hurry. When he came in for his consultation, he tipped over his coffee in his rush, spoke in a rapid fire stream and was about to dash across town to another meeting. It seems this was a pattern for Sean because when he sat down with me, he told me (quickly!) how he and his wife Amanda had fallen head over heels and were married just 4 months later. Unfortunately, the whirlwind continued and they separated 18 months later.

It shouldn’t surprise you that Sean hoped the brevity of his marriage meant he and Amanda could get divorced quickly. Unfortunately, in New Zealand, the 2 year separation rule before applying for a dissolution applies no matter how long the marriage lasted.

“What about an annulment?” Sean asked, “The marriage barely existed!”.

Surprisingly often, I get calls from people wanting to see if they can get their marriage declared void by the Family Court. However, I haven’t yet met a person who can fulfil the legal requirements to be met in order to get an application for such a declaration off the ground.

Having your marriage declared void means the marriage is treated as never having legally occurred. Unlike a dissolution application (divorce), there is no requirement to be living apart for 2 years before the application may be made. However, here’s the catch,  the Court can only make a declaration that a marriage or civil union was void in very limited and unique circumstances. Those circumstances include:

  • One or both of the parties to the marriage or civil union was under the age of 16 years or was 16 or 17 years old but the consent of the Family Court had not been obtained to the marriage or union.
  • One of the parties was already legally married or in a civil union.  
  • The parties shared a familial relationship that prohibits them from marrying or entering a civil union.
  • A party was under duress to marry, was insane, operating under a mistake or there was an absence of consent to the marriage or civil union with the other party. It was this latter ground that led one participant in Married at First Sight New Zealand to unsuccessfully ask the Court to declare his marriage void.
  • The legal formalities for a marriage or civil union were not completed because the parties knowingly and willingly married or entered the union without a licence or without a celebrant or Registrar.

For Sean, none of these grounds applied, meaning he had to rush off to his next meeting knowing that the period of time he had to wait to have his marriage dissolved was actually going to be longer than his marriage to Amanda actually lasted.

Got a question about your dissolution, separation or marriage? Give us, your family law experts, a call on (09) 297 2010 or drop us a line to [email protected].


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