Annulment of a marriage is different to a divorce. When a marriage is annulled, the annulment in effect says that the marriage was never legally valid. The parties’ marital status reverts to ‘single’, as if they were never married at all.
Divorce, however, whilst it also ends a marriage, is different. A divorce ends a marriage that had been legally valid before the order for divorce was granted. This is in contrast to an annulment which declares that the marriage never had legal validity. As a result, for the purposes of an annulment, there is nothing to be terminated.
During divorce proceedings, parties must show that their marriage—which was legally valid—has broken down irretrievably, and apply for a divorce order.
During annulment proceedings, parties have to demonstrate that the marriage was not valid or legal right from the outset.
Make sure you know the two categories of marriage that form grounds for annulment. They are: void, and voidable marriages.
Annulling a marriage in Singapore
Chapter 3 of the Women’s Charter governs the annulment of marriages. The grounds which make a marriage void or voidable are laid out in section 105 and 106.
A void marriage is classed as not valid right from the beginning, even if they are not officially annulled. But your marital status will remain as ‘married’ until a court declares it null. In the eyes of the law, a void marriage never existed, however most couples will ask for an official ruling of nullity from the Family Justice Court.
Until they are voided, voidable marriages do exist. They only dissolve upon a decree of nullity. They will endure until one party seeks this decree.
Requirements for Annulment
There are strict requirements in order to annul a marriage in Singapore, because doing so can have serious consequences. The exact criteria will vary, depending on whether a marriage is void or voidable.
When a marriage is void
Section 104 provides that a party to a void marriage can ask the court to issue a judgement of nullity, showing the marriage is null and void. An applicant has to show that the marriage didn’t meet the requirements for a valid marriage, if they want to prove the marriage is invalid.
The grounds on which a marriage may be voided are laid out in section 105.
For marriages after 1st June 1981, the marriage is void if one of the following applies, according to section 105(a):
- The marriage is between Muslims registered/solemnised under the Women’s Charter, rather than Muslim law (section 3(4))
- It is a polygamous marriage as referenced in sec 4 (for marriages on or before 15 Sept 1961) – section 5
- One of the spouses was below 18 years of age at solemnisation, and the marriage wasn’t authorised by a special license of marriage given by a Minister under sec 21 of the Women’s Charter – section 9
- The parties fall within prohibited degrees of relationship, for example relatives, as stated in the 1st schedule of the Women’s Charter – section 10
- One of the parties was already married to someone else under any law, custom or religion, or usage – section 11
- The parties are of the same gender – section 12
- The solemnisation failed to comply with the requirements of Singapore law – section 22
A marriage of convenience only and therefore an invalid marriage, under section 11A. Where one party obtains an advantage to immigration, or a gratification as a reward or inducement to be a part of the marriage.
The marriage was not celebrated in Singapore, and is invalid because of:
- The law of the place it was celebrated, or
- Lack of capacity
When is a marriage voidable?
Voidable marriages are legally valid until a party applies for a judgement of nullity, unlike the situation in a void marriage.
Under section 106, if a marriage took place after 1 June 1981 then it is voidable if:
- The marriage hasn’t been consummated due to either party being unable to do so – section 106(a)
- The marriage hasn’t been consummated due to the defendant being unwilling to do so – section 106(b)
- Either of the parties did not consent to the marriage because of mistake, duress, mental disorder or otherwise – section 106(c)
- When the marriage happened, either party was capable of giving valid consent but was suffering from a mental disorder and was therefore unfit for marriage, according to the meaning of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2008 – section 106(d)
- The defendant was suffering from a transmissible form of a venereal disease, at the time of marriage – section 106(e)
- The defendant was pregnant by someone other than the plaintiff at the time of marriage – section 106(f)
Annulment application process
Either spouse may file a writ asking for a judgment of nullity, according to section 104. The following documents must be included:
- Statement of claim – this sets out the grounds you’re relying on for annulment;
- Statement of particulars – this should explain the facts you intent to rely on;
- An agreed or proposed parenting plan, if children are involved;
- A matrimonial property plan with your proposed arrangements for your HDB flat, if you have one. (If you have not fulfilled the minimum occupation period, you may have to surrender the HDB flat).
An annulment will usually be a two-step process. The court may grant an interim judgement if it is satisfied with the grounds for annulment.
Following this, ancillary matters must be settled (such as maintenance, division of property and custody of any children). When the court is satisfied with the property arrangements and the children’s welfare, they may then grant a judgement of nullity.
The process will usually take 4-6 months for uncontested annulments, but it may take much longer if one spouse contests the application.
Annulment application time limit
There is no time limit to apply for a declaration of nullity if the marriage is void.
However, if you are seeking an annulment of a voidable marriage, you should apply within three years. But no time limit will apply if you are alleging that the marriage has not been consummated because the defendant refused, or either party was incapable. You can then apply for an annulment regardless of the length of the marriage.
Children born to a void or voidable marriage
In voidable marriages, children born within the marriage are considered legitimate.
In void marriages, children born are also considered to be legitimate as long as the parties believed that the marriage was valid at the time it occurred.
Can a court refuse to annul a marriage?
You’ll need sufficient evidence to show your marriage is void or voidable in order to annul your marriage. However, even if you allege this and prove it, a court may still refuse to grant the annulment you request, if:
- The plaintiff knew they could annul the marriage but acted in a manner that caused the defendant to reasonably believe the plaintiff would not do so; or
- It would be unjust to the defendant for an annulment to be granted
Under section 106(e) or (f), the court will not grant a judgment of nullity if, at the time of marriage:
- The plaintiff knew the defendant was suffering from a transmissible venereal disease; or
- The plaintiff knew the defendant was pregnant by another person
Denial of annulment of application
In this scenario, you may apply for a divorce, if you have been married for more than three years.
If you have not been married for more than three years, you could choose to separate until three years of marriage has elapsed and then apply to divorce.
If you can prove that you are suffering exceptional hardship, or the defendant is guilty of exceptional depravity, then you may apply for divorce prior to three years elapsing.
Do not assume that annulment is a fast alternative to a divorce. It involves strict requirements, and can involve complex or confusing criteria. You should speak to a lawyer if you think your marriage is void or voidable, and fully understand the options available to you. The lawyer can help you interpret the law and follow due process so that you successfully obtain a judgment or declaration of nullity.