Marriage Annulment in Canada

A marriage annulment in Canada is basically a declaration that a valid marriage is void.

Religious Annulment

A legal annulment is not the same thing as a religious annulment. The government and the courts do not recognize a religious annulment. Therefore, even if you obtain an annulment in your church, you are still considered married under Canadian law.

When can I get a Marriage Annulment?

The circumstances where an annulment is available are quite limited in Canada:

1. If you’ve married someone who was already married and you did not know that when you married, you can get an annulment.

2. “Shotgun” weddings can be annulled.

3. If you don’t have the mental capacity to understand what a marriage is, you can get your marriage annulled.

4. If you marry someone who is too closely related to you, e.g. your brother or sister, then you can get a marriage annulment.

5. If your marriage cannot be consummated, then you can get an annulment. Note that this means that there is a physical inability to consummate the marriage, not that there was a voluntary choice not to consummate the marriage. Additionally, if you knew at the time of the marriage that it was not possible to consummate the marriage, then you cannot get an annulment in Canada. The person who is unable to consumate the marriage cannot ask for an annulment on this ground – it has to be the other spouse.

6. If you married under the age of 18 without your parents’ consent, you may be able to get an annulment.

7. If you did not know that the ceremony you were involved in was a real marriage ceremony, you may be able to get an annulment.

Marriage For Immigration Reasons

Those who have married for immigration reasons do not typically qualify for an annulment. The only time this is a situation where one would qualify for annulment is if they meet one of the normal grounds for annulment as well.

Annulment For Sexual Reasons

Many people consider annulment if they are in a marriage where one partner does not want to have sexual relationship with one another. The wish to not have sex with your partner does not qualify you for annulment, but if one of the parties cannot have sexual relations that is grounds for annulment.

Annulment versus Divorce

In Ontario and most other places, your rights, for instance to child support and child custody — are the same as if you were separating or divorcing. There are no legal advantages to getting a an annulment rather than getting a divorce.

Cost of Marriage Annulment

An uncontested annulment is more costly than an uncontested divorce. This is because there is a streamlined process for obtaining an uncontested divorce in Ontario and the rest of Canada, under which no court appearance is necessary. No such process exists for annulments, which requires a court appearance.

Short-Term Marriage

Just because your marriage is only one week long and was the biggest mistake of your life does not mean that you qualify for an annulment. You must still meet the normal grounds for an annulment.

Further Thoughts

It’s very rare that a person actually qualifies for an annulment; normally if you want to end your marriage, you must proceed with a divorce.

Here is some more information about annulments from an interview I gave

Do you know where I could find stats related to the number of annulments in Canada or Ontario versus number of divorces?

My understanding is that the statistics are kept for divorces and annulments as a single category, rather than each one separately. I believe that the rationale for this is that legal annulments are only granted under unusual circumstances, so they are very rare, so not kept track of separately.

How often do clients request annulments or inquire about them (have you handled any in your practice or your firm – if so how many? I’m also interested in your general impressions of how commonly this comes up among clients of family lawyers.) I understand they are rare but of those applications that are actually made, how often are they successful?

Clients do request an annulment frequently, but it is rare that they qualify for one.

The most common scenario where a client asks for an annulment is a case of immigration fraud. The client has found out that he or she was married simply so their partner could obtain residency in Canada, but never had an intention of a long-term relationship.

Other situations where I’ve had a request for an annulment: the client’s partner decides they are gay or lesbian, or has decided to undergo sex reassignment surgery; the client’s partner simply walked away days after the wedding; the couple did not have sex since they married; marriages arranged by the client’s parents; the client only found out after marriage about a serious gambling, addiction, or other problem their partner had; and even finding out about hidden financial problems of a partner after marriage.

However, in virtually all of those cases, a person is not entitled to an annulment.

Even if a client qualifies for an annulment, it often makes sense simply to obtain a divorce. Obtaining an uncontested divorce is a standardized procedure with the court, and simply requires filing the right paperwork at the right time after one year of separation. Obtaining an annulment is complex, costly, and requires a court appearance, which often will occur only after a year or so of waiting anyhow, due to the court’s busy calendar.

There are no stats about how successful applications for annulments are, but I think that they normally would be. A lawyer would need to be fairly sure of success to pursue an annulment rather than a divorce. Even if the annulment is uncontested, the court is going to scrutinize what happened very closely.

Why would someone generally want an annulment versus a divorce, particularly if it’s more costly and difficult to obtain? What are the advantages? Can one party contest it as in divorce?

If a marriage is annulled, then it is as if it never existed. So, if your partner has committed fraud or deceived you in a major way, or used you to obtain something, then it makes common sense to say this was not a real marriage. It is not as if the two of you tried hard to try to make your marriage work, and it didn’t work out despite best efforts. Rather, you were taken advantage of in a major way.

Also, if you are religious or from a more traditional culture, then getting a divorce is a big stigma. You can avoid that stigma through an annulment.

An annulment can be contested, as anything in law can be. As I mention above, even if an annulment is uncontested, the court is going to scrutinize what happened very closely.

What’s the difference in terms of equalization/spousal support in the case of divorce versus common-law split and annulment? Your website mentions rights are same when it comes to child support and custody but aren’t there other differences in terms of financial rights?

When it comes to issues regarding children – custody, access, and child support – then the law is the same in cases of divorce, annulment, and separation of common law couples.

With an annulment, it is as if the marriage did not exist. So it would be unlikely that there would be an award for spousal support or property.

In theory it could happen, but the right to spousal support or property would be based on the parties living common law. So, for instance, imagine that Henry and Wilma got married, and lived together for many years. Then Wilma found out Henry was still validly married to another woman in another country. Although the marriage between Wilma and Henry would be void, Wilma would be able to make claims for spousal support and property against Henry, as if they had been a common law couple cohabiting for all those years.

How long does the annulment process take and how much more does it cost than, for example, an uncontested divorce?

It takes the normal length of time any family law case would take to go through the courts. That is going to depend on how busy your local court is. However, typically, you would be looking at several months to a year or more, even if the annulment is uncontested. If it is contested, it will take even longer.

As for costs, it is going to depend on how complicated your case is. These cases tend to be complicated, as often the marriage occurred in a foreign jurisdiction and proof of foreign law is needed, or medical expert evidence is required regarding inability to have sex. So, the cost for even an uncontested annulment is going to be orders of magnitude more than the costs of an uncontested divorce.

What are some examples of situations you’ve deal with where an annulment was appropriate and granted?

The most common one would be where the client’s spouse was still validly married to someone else in another country.

Another situation is where the client was in a marriage arranged by his parents and his wife was unable to consummate the marriage.

What is considered a “shotgun wedding” that can be annulled – I’m interested in the thinking about why those qualify.

This basically means someone agreed to marry because of force. So the stereotype is a man gets a woman pregnant, and the woman’s dad tells the man to marry his daughter or else he will be shot. This was likely more common a long time ago then it is today.

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