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Civil Nullity (or Civil Annulment) must not be confused with either Divorce or Church Annulments. This leaflet offers an explanation of the procedure, grounds and consequences of an Application for Civil Nullity. For information on Church Annulments, contact your Regional Marriage Tribunal, the address of which is available from your local church.
Q1: What is Civil Nullity?
A1: Civil Nullity is a Decree granted by the High Court or Circuit Court stating that the marriage in question is null and void and that no valid marriage ever existed. The parties are then single persons in the eyes of the law and are consequently free to remarry.
Q2: What is the difference between Divorce and Civil Nullity?
A2: A Divorce Decree declares that a marriage that did exist is now ended and dissolved, and it deals with the circumstances arising from that marriage, whereas a Civil Nullity Decree declares a marriage never to have been valid and consequently never to have existed.
Q3: What is the difference between a Civil Annulment and a Church Annulment?
Although it is common for a person to seek a Church Nullity before seeking a Civil Nullity, neither this fact nor the Church Regional Tribunals should have any direct bearing on the outcome of the Civil Case.
Q4: When will a Civil Nullity be granted by the High Court/Circuit court?
A4: The Court will grant a Decree of Nullity where it finds that the marriage is void or voidable. Where the court finds that a marriage is void this means the marriage was never valid in any respect from the start of the marriage. If, on the other hand, the marriage is found to be voidable, then that marriage is valid until the Court declares it void, and if no proceedings are taken, it will remain a valid marriage. Once the Decree of Nullity is granted, the marriage is declared to be invalid from the moment of its celebration.
Q5: When is a marriage void?
A5: A marriage is void in the following circumstances:
Q6: What is meant by absence of consent?
A6: A marriage should be a voluntary union entered into with free and full consent. While consent may seem free and full, it may in fact, be flawed. Absence of consent may arise where there is:
Q7: When is a marriage voidable?
A7: A marriage is voidable
Q8: What does it mean, 'unable to consummate the marriage'?
A8: When one of the parties is unable to engage with the other in ordinary and complete sexual intercourse because of a physical defect or for some psychological reason. Infertility or a failure to ejaculate does not establish this ground.
Q9: What does it mean 'unable to enter and sustain a normal marital relationship'?
A9: Marriage is a union for life and just as the law recognises there is a physical element in a marital relationship, so too it recognises that there is also emotional and psychological element which is essential to a valid marriage. Where one of the parties to a valid marriage is at the time of the marriage suffering from a psychiatric disorder which may impair his/her ability to form and sustain a normal viable marriage, then the Court may declare the marriage invalid.
More recently, the Court has decided that a homosexual orientation may form the basis of a Decree where it renders one spouse incapable of entering into a relationship which should exist between married couples.
If this ground is alleged then the behaviour after the marriage has taken place will he considered relevant by the Court in establishing this ground.
Q10: Who can petition for a decree of Nullity?
A10: To establish that the marriage is voidable the Petitioner must be one of the parties to the marriage and therefore it can only be challenged by one of the spouses during the lifetime of both.
Where it is sought to establish that the marriage is void any person can petition the court, even after the death of the parties.
Q11: Is it difficult to establish or obtain a Decree of Nullity?
A11: There is a presumption in law in favour of validity where a marriage has been celebrated in proper form between two competent partners. The onus of proof is on the Petitioner (ie. spouse seeking the annulment). The courts expect a very high standard of proof.
Q12: Are there circumstances where the courts will refuse to grant a Decree even where one of the parties appears to have established grounds?
A12: Yes these arise where there is:
It should always be borne in mind that the granting of a Decree of Nullity is within the discretion of the Court and in cases where it is felt that to do so would involve great hardship, e.g. on a child of the union, it may refuse.
Q13: What are the effects of a Decree of Nullity?
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