When a couple undergo a marriage ceremony, the presumption arises that the marriage is a lawful one; the law of nullity establishes when in fact this is not the case.
There are 2 differing aspects regarding the law of nullity; the first is establishing whether a marriage is void and the second is establishing whether a marriage is voidable. The relevant legislation governing whether a marriage falls in to one of the above categories is the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order 1978.
To establish that a marriage is void, one of the following grounds must be proved:
A void marriage is one which is so flawed that it may be regarded as never having taken place, however a decree can be obtained to legally verify that fact.
A voidable marriage is one which exists until such a time as the court grants a decree to annul it, which distinguishes it from a void marriage.
The grounds upon which a marriage can be voidable are as follows:
There are certain bars to obtaining a decree of nullity on the ground that a marriage is voidable, such as, that the Petitioner, with knowledge that it was open to him or her to have the marriage avoided, conducted him or herself to lead the Respondent to reasonably believe that he or she would not seek to do so. Further such a decree can be refused on the grounds that it would be unjust to the Respondent to grant it. Additionally, there is a time bar to obtaining a decree of nullity, insofar as proceedings must be issued within 3 years of the date of the marriage, or alternatively the leave of the court must be granted to apply outside that time period. Such leave will only be granted in certain limited circumstances.
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