Our daughter, Miriam, was married a year ago – she was barely 18 at the time and really the marriage was an act of defiance when we were trying to exert pressure on her to study for the Leaving Cert. We did not give our consent or blessing and the marriage, as we had expected, has not worked despite both families efforts to help her and John settle. They have lived between our house and John’s parents’ house, but honestly they have spent more time apart than together in that time. They have not seen each other for the past few months, and our daughter now has come to her senses and is deeply distressed by the whole sorry mess. Would she be able to get an annulment?
Nullity is really quite a strange legal concept, because in essence the legal effect of having a marriage annulled is to say that a marriage never occurred in the first place. Now, all who attended a wedding and indeed any children who may have been born within such marriages, might say this is plain nonsense. However, in countries such as Ireland where religious and moral codes dominated societies, and where divorce was not permitted, getting an annulment was the only legal way to exit from a marriage. A church annulment, although much easier to obtain and while similar in proofs to a legal annulment, has no legal effect and does not permit remarriage. To be granted a civil annulment, you have to prove to the court that the marriage was void or voidable.
Void marriages are ones where the marriage was incapable of existing, by virtue of factual circumstances, such as:
- One of the parties is already married, or under the age of consent (18) without special permission from the court, or the couple are of the same sex
- The proper formalities are absent (for example, the three-month notice was not given to Registrar)
- Or where duress, insanity or fraud was at the heart of the ‘marriage’
Voidable marriages on the other hand always have to be argued to the court, and this is the area where nullity law principally has developed over the years in the Irish Courts. The two grounds on which a marriage can be declared voidable are:
- Impotence or
- Inability to form and sustain a normal marital relationship whether due to mental illness, extreme immaturity or homosexuality
Parental consent is not required regardless of the age of the couple. You will see then, that of the above, the only option available to your daughter is to prove to the court that either she or her husband or both of them were extremely immature at the time, to such an extent that the marriage could not have succeeded.
It’s not possible from the details in your letter to form a view of the evidence to support such an application. Such cases, as you can imagine, are treated individually on the facts of each case. It would be usual and necessary to have a psychologist’s report and oral evidence confirming that such extreme immaturity indeed existed.
Brid Manifold is a family-law solicitor and mediator based in Galway City. Her monthly columns will cover a range of family-law and mediation issues. Email your questions in confidence to Brid at firstname.lastname@example.org.