Could my marriage be invalid?

Sadly, there are people who have believed they were legally married, only to find out years later their marriage was invalid.  This normally only comes to light when a relationship ends, or when one party to the relationship dies as it can have an impact on financial entitlements.

Stephen Carr family lawyer at Ware & Kay in York says ‘This can be a terrible shock when, as well as grieving the death of your partner, you encounter financial difficulties and find yourself embroiled in a legal argument over the validity of your marriage.’

To be legally valid, a marriage (other than marriage according to the rites/ceremonies of the Church of England and Wales, Jewish and Quaker marriage) must generally take place in a registered building.  Those who wish to celebrate their marriage in a venue that has not been registered for marriage must go through an additional civil ceremony.

York Press: Ware and Kay

Both civil and religious marriages must be registered after the marriage service to be valid. 

In law, a marriage may be invalid if it is a void or voidable marriage.  The difference being that a void marriage can never be valid, but a voidable marriage can be. 

When is a marriage void?

A void marriage is one where the parties do not have legal capacity to marry each other because:

  • one or both of the couple is under 16;
  • they are close relatives of each other; or
  • they are already married or in a civil partnership.

When is a marriage voidable?

There are a number of situations in which a marriage can be ‘voidable’, including:

  • if the marriage has not been consummated.
  • if one person did not consent to the marriage;
  • when at the time of the marriage the respondent was pregnant by someone else; or
  • after the marriage, an interim gender recognition certificate has been issued.

The marriage can also be voidable if the marriage ceremony is not valid.  Famously, Mike Jagger successfully claimed his marriage to Jerry Hall was invalid as it occurred on a beach in Bali, and under Balinese law the marriage had to be a Muslim marriage to be valid.  Their marriage was declared null and void. 

If your marriage falls into one of the ‘voidable’ grounds above it is possible to apply to court for a declaration of validity confirming that your marriage is valid.

You also have the option of seeking confirmation that the marriage is invalid by way of a petition for nullity.