family law Resources

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Effects of Nullity

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The former rule was that annulment made things as if the marriage had never existed: this could have unexpected (and perhaps undesired) consequences in relation to legitimacy, inheritance, and so on. The rule still applies in most respects to supposed marriages declared void ab initio, but under the Family Law Reform Act 1987 the children of a void marriage are "treated as" legitimate if at the probable time of their conception (or of the "marriage", if later) both parties believed they were legally married. Under s.16 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, however, a merely voidable marriage that has been annulled is now to be treated as though it had existed up to the date of the decree.

Ward v Secretary of State [1990] 1 FLR 119, DC
P was the widow of an army officer, in receipt of a widow's pension. She married another man M, but he was mentally disturbed and violent towards her, and she subsequently obtained an annulment on grounds of non-consummation. When her pension was stopped, she brought an unsuccessful action to have it restored: Brown P said annulment did not cancel the marriage altogether: since her remarriage, P could not longer be regarded in law as the officer's widow and so was no longer entitled to the pension.

Re Spence [1990] 2 FLR 278, CA
W married H in 1895, but the marriage was unhappy and she left him. W then moved in with S and had two sons by him; in 1934 W and S went through a ceremony of marriage, but since H was still alive and W's first marriage had never been formally dissolved, this "marriage" was void. On H's death his sons sought to inherit, claiming they had been legitimised by the marriage, but the court said legitimation could come only through a valid marriage. Although children born into a marriage subsequently declared void are to be regarded as legitimate, a void marriage could not bring about any change in the status of those born illegitimate.

Under ss.21-31 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 as amended, the court granting a decree of nullity has the same powers to make financial provision and property adjustment orders as in the event of divorce. These powers are discussed more fully in a later chapter.

Whiston v Whiston [1995] Fam 198, CA
A man P obtained a decree of nullity on the grounds of R's bigamy; granting the decree, the judge awarded R ancillary relief amounting to $20 000. The Court of Appeal affirmed the decree but quashed the financial award. Bigamy is a crime, they said, and the court as a matter of public policy should not entertain claims for financial relief from a knowing bigamist.