A divorce order terminates a valid marriage. In some cases, partners can apply to the BC Supreme Court to have an invalid marriage annulled – meaning the marriage never existed in the first place.
An annulment is only granted if the Court is satisfied the marriage was invalid. This could happen in very specific circumstances, such as:
- One spouse was already married to another person;
- One spouse was less than the age of majority and did not have parental consent to get married;
- One spouse lacked the mental capacity to understand that they were getting married;
- The spouses are too closely related;
- The marriage was conducted under fear, duress, or fraud in such a way that a spouse could not consent; or
- One spouse was so impaired by drugs or alcohol that they did not understand they were getting married.
An annulment requires an application to the BC Supreme Court and a hearing before a judge. Sometimes, it is easier to simply get a divorce order if both partners can agree on any related issues. However, for some people it may be important to confirm that the marriage never existed in the first place, and that can only be achieved with an annulment.
Some religious or cultural institutions offer annulments in accordance with their respective rules. It is important to note that religious or cultural annulments are not legally recognized in BC.
It is also important to note that, even though two partners are not married, they could still be common-law spouses in BC if they have been cohabiting in a marriage-like relationship for 2 years or have children together. If so, it is important to consult a lawyer regarding your legal rights upon separation.