Background information

Background information

Contents

Divorce or dissolution

Divorce is the ending of a marriage on the ground that it has irretrievably broken down. Dissolution is the same, but for a civil partnership.

You may only apply for a divorce or dissolution after you have been married or in a civil partnership for at least two years and only on certain grounds. You can find out more about these grounds in the section 'Grounds and the facts to prove them'.

Divorces can be heard in any County Court, regardless of where you reside (you do not have to use your local court) or within the Family Division of the High Court in Belfast. If your divorce is likely to have any complicating factors, or be defended by the respondent lodging a cross-petition, then you should issue proceedings in the High Court rather than the County Court.

You can find the address and contact details for your local court by using court service NI website.

Mediation

If you have issues to resolve with your spouse or civil partner regarding any child of the family, financial separation of assets, or maintenance, then it may be cost effective for you to enter mediation with your spouse or civil partner prior to issuing court proceedings. Qualified mediators can help you open communication with your ex-partner in the hope it will lead to you making your own arrangements for the future without the need to put all issues before the court.

If you have children with your ex-partner, then mediation could be especially beneficial in trying to achieve a good line of communication, and be able to make joint decisions for the future of your children.

In all mediation you are free to negotiate without the fear that it might be used against you later.

Judicial separation or separation of civil partnership

If your marriage or civil partnership has broken down, but you have religious or moral objections to divorce or dissolution, separation may be the way forward for you. If you are married, this is called a 'judicial separation'. For civil partnerships, it is simply called 'separation'.

This does not end your marriage or civil partnership, so you wouldn't be able to remarry or enter into a new civil partnership afterwards. It is an order that allows you to stop living with your spouse or civil partner without the fear that this will be seen as desertion (which is one of the facts to show irretrievable breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership). It also enables you to sort out issues such as the financial needs and the arrangements for the children on a formal basis before you separate, which is not always possible when you simply stop living together.

For judicial separation or separation of a civil partnership you can apply at any time, and are not required to wait two years. This ground can be an attractive option to those who have not yet been married or in a civil partnership for two years, and therefore can't yet get a divorce. After doing so, you can still get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership later, if you want to.

Unlike when you want a divorce or dissolution, you do not need to prove the 'irretrievable breakdown' of your marriage or civil partnership. If you prove any of the 'facts' discussed in the divorce or dissolution section, that alone will entitle you to a decree of judicial separation or a separation order. See Grounds and the facts to prove them for more information.

Nullity

If your marriage or civil partnership was never legally valid ('void') or is capable of being declared legally invalid ('voidable') you are entitled to approach the court for an annulment.

If you get an annulment on the basis that your marriage or civil partnership was void, from a legal point of view it will be as though your marriage or civil partnership never happened.

On the other hand, if you get an annulment because your marriage or civil partnership is voidable, it will be regarded as having validly existed until the date of the annulment court order.

You should apply within 3 years of marriage/civil partnership. If you wish to apply after 3 years, you will need to get permission from the court to make a late application.

Grounds for nullity

If your marriage or civil partnership was never legally valid ('void') or is capable of being declared legally invalid ('voidable') you are entitled to approach the court for an annulment.

The grounds for obtaining an annulment on the basis of your marriage or civil partnership being declared 'void' or 'voidable' are listed below.

Void marriages

You can apply for an annulment of your marriage on the grounds that it is void if any of the following apply:

  • You and your spouse are too closely related (i.e. within the prohibited degrees of relationship)
  • You or your spouse were under 16 at the time of the marriage
  • You and your spouse intermarried and certain formal legal requirements for the marriage ceremony were not followed
  • At the time of the marriage one of you was already lawfully married or a civil partner
  • In the case of a polygamous marriage entered into outside Northern Ireland, one of you was at the time of the marriage domiciled in Northern Ireland

Void civil partnerships

You can apply for an annulment of your civil partnership on the grounds that it is void if any of the following apply:

  • At the time you entered the civil partnership you were not eligible to register because:
    • You were not of the same sex
    • One of you was already a civil partner or lawfully married
    • One of you was under 16
    • You were within the prohibited degrees of relationship
  • At the time of the civil partnership you both knew that:
    • Due notice of the proposed civil partnership had not been given
    • The civil partnership certificate had not been duly issued
    • The civil partnership document was registered after the end of the time allowed for registering in terms of the law
    • The place of registration was a place other than that specified in the notices (or notice) of the proposed civil partnership and in the civil partnership document
    • A civil partnership registrar was not present
  • The civil partnership was between a child and another person

Voidable marriages and civil partnerships

You may apply for an annulment of your marriage or civil partnership on the grounds that it is voidable if any of the following apply:

  • One of you was incapable of consummating the marriage (i.e. having sex) or your spouse intentionally refused to do so (not applicable to civil partnerships)
  • One of you did not give valid consent, whether because you were forced, not of sound mind or otherwise
  • At the time of the marriage or civil partnership, one of you, although capable of giving a valid consent, was suffering from a mental disorder that made you unfit for marriage or civil partnership
  • At the time of the marriage your spouse was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form (not applicable to civil partnerships)
  • At the time of the marriage or civil partnership one of you was pregnant by someone else
  • After the time of the marriage or civil partnership, an interim gender recognition certificate under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has been issued to one of you
  • One of you is someone whose gender at the time of the marriage or civil partnership had become the acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004

To apply for a nullity, you follow the same steps as when you apply for a divorce or dissolution.

It is strongly recommended that you get legal advice during this process.