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What is an annulment and how do I get one?

An annulment is a court order that says your marriage was not valid from the start. This means that, according to the law, you and your partner were not actually married. An annulment is sometimes called a declaration that your marriage is "void" or a "nullity".

For example, you might get an annulment if your partner was still married to someone else when they married you. This means that they were not able to marry you. So, even though you had a marriage ceremony, an annulment says that it is like you were never married.

Even if you get an annulment, you might still have legal responsibilities to the person that you married.

For example, you might have to pay spousal support to the person you married, even if you get an annulment. This is explained further in Step 2, below.

A religious annulment is different from one that you get from a court. Some religions require a religious annulment before you can marry again in the religion. This is explained further in Step 3, below.

Divorce or annulment

If you want to remarry and your partner is still alive, you must get either a divorce or an annulment from the court.

A divorce order is a court order that ends your valid marriage.

It is rare to get an annulment to legally end a marriage. You can only get an annulment in a few situations. See Step 1, below. Most of the time, people don’t meet the conditions for an annulment so they need to get a divorce to legally end their marriage.

It can cost more to get an annulment than to get a divorce. This is because the court has a special process to get a divorce if you and your partner agree to it. You can fill out paperwork and don't usually have to go to court and talk to a judge if you only want a divorce and both partners agree. But there is no similar court process to get an annulment based on just paperwork.

If your situation does allow you to get an annulment, some people prefer to get it instead of a divorce. This is because it means according to the law, you and your partner were not actually married.

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Next Steps: 

1. Find out if you can get an annulment

Most married people cannot get an annulment. It is only given for a few very specific reasons.

Reasons that give you an annulment

To get an annulment, you have to prove one of the following:

Not able to get married

You can get an annulment if you or your partner were not able to get married because one of the following is true:

  • One partner was already married, but the other partner did not know.
  • One partner was under the age of 16, or was 16 or 17 but didn't have their parents' permission.
  • You are closely related to your partner, by blood or adoption. To see which relatives can't marry each other, see Step 1 of the question How do we get married in Ontario?
  • One partner didn't understand what it meant to get married. To see what this means, see Step 1 of the question How do we get married in Ontario?
  • One partner was forced into the marriage against their will. They might have been forced by their partner or by someone else.

Problem with your marriage ceremony

You can get an annulment if your marriage ceremony was not performed properly.

For example, you can get an annulment if the person who performed the ceremony did not have the legal power to marry people.

Unable to have sex

You can get an annulment if the marriage could not be consummated. This means that the partners could not have sex because of a physical inability or mental condition that was not known at the time of marriage. A marriage cannot be annulled if the partners chose not to have sex.

Reasons that won't give you an annulment

The intention of the partners does not matter. For example, it doesn't matter if your partner married you just to immigrate to Canada. That would not be a reason for an Ontario court to give you an annulment.

You also can't get an annulment just because you had a short marriage. This is true even if you are married for only a few days before one of you wants to end the marriage.

2. Apply to court

You have to apply to court to get an annulment.Make sure that you apply to the right court. Only a Superior Court of Justice or a Family Court of the Superior Court of Justice can order an annulment. The Court of Justice cannot give you an annulment.You fill out Form 8: Application to apply. On page 4 of the form, under the heading “Other claims”, you ask for an "annulment of marriage".Other claimsYou might still have the same rights as a married partner, even if you get an annulment. The court looks at your specific situation, including things like when you got married and why you are asking for an annulment. You might have the right to:divide property: instead of using the date of separation as the date that you value your property, you may be able to use the date that you got the annulmentstay in your matrimonial home after you separateget spousal supportYou can make these claims if you married your partner in good faith. This means that when you had the ceremony, you didn't know that you could not be legally married.For example, if you thought your 17-year old partner was 20 years old at the time of the marriage because they lied, you can apply to divide property. But if you are the partner that lied about your age, you can't apply to divide property.If you have children together, you can always claim:child supportcustodyaccessYou can talk to a lawyer who can help you understand what the law says and what your options are. They can also explain the court process and help you through it.If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, some lawyers provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means you pay them to help you with part of your case.If you can't afford to hire a lawyer at all, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

You may need

3. Get a religious annulment, if you want

You might want to get a religious annulment if you want to remarry in the same faith and have your new marriage recognized by your religion.

For example, the Catholic Church does not recognize a divorce as ending a marriage. So, even though a divorced person can remarry in Ontario, they must get a religious annulment if they want to remarry in the Catholic Church.

A religious annulment is not the same thing as getting a court order for an annulment. A religion may give an annulment for different reasons than what the courts accept. You should ask your religious leader what you need to get a religious annulment.

For example, even if you don't qualify for an annulment from the court, the Catholic Church might give you a religious annulment if it decides that you were not mature enough to get married.

Reviewed: 
July, 2016

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