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Divorce and Annulments


  • Divorce and Annulments

    Absolute.jpgDivorce is the ending of a marriage before either of the partners have died. After a divorce people are allowed to marry again.

    Before either party involved in a bigamous marriage could remarry, they had to apply for a declaration of nullity (i.e. have a court decide that they were indeed correct that the marriage had been bigamous). Obviously any guilty party might have to do more than this to free themselves for another marriage, but that's not the issue here!
    Decree Absolute

    There is The Central Index which is a record of all decrees absolute granted by Courts in England and Wales since 1858. It is "looked after" by the Principal Registry of the Family Division and anyone is able to apply for a search to be carried out and is able to receive a certificate of the result and of any decree absolute traced.
    If you want to get a copy of a decree absolute then you need to get in touch with:

    The Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD) who have the responsibility for maintaining the index of all Decrees Absolute (Divorce and Annulments) in England and Wales

    Their address is:
    The Court Service
    Principal Registry of the Family Division
    Decree Absolute Searches Room 2.03
    First Avenue House
    42-49 High Holborn
    WC1V 6NP
    Telephone number: 020 7947 6000
    If you get in touch with the above address they will be able to send you a form to fill in or you can call into the office and the staff there are able to do a search for you whilst you wait (although if you do call in staff can only search a three year period while you wait if the years are before 1981). If they do not find anything in this period, they will search the rest of the period requested to be searched and the result will be sent out in the post to you within 10 working days.


    An annulment originates from Catholicism (who do not permit divorce) but they are able to get around this by finding some snag in the original arrangements which allows them to declare that the marriage was not valid in the first place and so can be annulled.

    Annulments can be a "Catholic thing", but it is still an annulment if someone is able to obtain a declaration of nullity, because a marriage was illegal at the time it took place.
    Catholics can have marriages annulled on various grounds. These have been tightened up in the last few decades.

    The marriage can be annulled if it was considered that one or both parties entered into the marriage wrongly. E.g. if a girl was forced to marry by her parents, or if one party failed to tell the other something that would have stopped the marriage or other such factors.

    If a Catholic marriage is annulled, you then get a civil divorce to make everything legal such as property, money etc.

    A person who has had a marriage annulled can then "remarry" within the rites of the church. However, when a person just gets a civil divorce they cannot "re-marry" within the rites of the Church.

    An official annulment is granted by a court so is a civil matter. E.g. Sometimes Catholic priests will "officiate" at marriages without the rites of the church. This is usually "frowned" on by the powers that be, but does happen. These marriages are legal, as all Catholic priests are also able to perform marriage ceremonies in the eyes of the law.

    In the UK there is a slight difference because if the grounds for the religious annulment were something accepted as making the marriage illegal by the civil system (such as bigamy), you couldn't get a divorce, but would have to get a declaration of nullity instead because you were never properly married in the first place.
    It would only be if the religious reason was not accepted in civil law that a divorce would be required before a person could remarry.

    Through History

    Until the mid 1800s the law took the same view as the Church that marriage is a lifelong union between two parties and is indissoluble. The only way for people to get a divorce was by an Act of Parliament. This had to be funded privately and because of the expense and length it was available to very few people. From the first act, only 317 acts were passed in the next 150 years. Nearly all of these acts were instigated by the Husband as he had control of the money so the only way a woman could get a divorce is if she was supported by her family.

    The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, allowed the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes to give a divorce where the person could prove that the other half of the partnership had committed adultery, cruelty, bigamy, desertion or sodomy. This extra need was abolished during 1923, but adultery (which was still treated as a "matrimonial offence") remained the only ground of divorce.

    If a divorce did go through the courts, it will have been reported in Hansard, a publication of all the day to day goings on of Parliament. These can often be found in the libraries of courts.

    The law changed again in 1937 with 'The Matrimonial Causes Act 1937, which introduced another three grounds for divorce. These were cruelty, desertion (for at least three years), and incurable insanity. People were unable to divorce within the first three years of their marriage as this was part of the Act.

    The ability to divorce someone was made easier with The 1969 Divorce Reform Act which reinforced the three existing grounds for divorce (adultery, desertion and cruelty). Cruelty was widened to ‘unreasonable behaviour’). It also added two ‘no-fault’ grounds for separation meaning that a couple could divorce even if neither partner had done nothing wrong. Until 1969 a "guilty" spouse was not allowed to divorce their "innocent" spouse.

    Illegal Marriages

    Do you want to know if your relatives broke the law by marrying someone they should not?

    If so, then go to Forbidden Marriages to see who could and could not marry whom!

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