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Annulment and divorce

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By Francis Ewherido

There are two ways to legally end a marriage—annulment and divorce. Wikipedia defines annulmentas a “legal procedure within secular and religious legal systems for declaring a marriage null and void.

Unlike divorce, it is usually retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place.”

On the other hand, Wikipedia says: “divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is the process of terminating a marriage or marital union.”

Divorce is something we read about every day because the courts grant requests for divorce on a daily basis. But annulments are not frequent. So, when I heard the news of the annulment of 30 marriages in Imo, my attention was naturally aroused. According to the story, the Catholic Diocese of Orlu, Imo State, annulled the 30 marriages because they were contracted with fake certificates. Deceit is a major ground for annulment of marriages. Deceit comes in various forms: fake certificates, concealment of vital information, misrepresentation, stolen identity, etc.

Marriage is not ordinary business with “buyers beware” clause. Normally during courtship, all parties should exercise utmost good faith. “Parties should disclose fully any condition that will make the other party have a second thought about continuing with the relationship. Specifically, if one party is infertile or has a terminal ailment, it must be disclosed to the other party.

Also, if one party is in a financial hole such as to affect their finances gravely after marriage, it should be disclosed. The same applies if one party is using a falsified age at the time of courtship. If one party is an ex-convict or has been previously married or has children from previous liaisons, it should also be disclosed to the other party”(Life Lessons from Mudipapa, p.250). Medical conditions, such as genotype and HIV status, should also be disclosed. For instance, if during courtship the man misled the woman that he is AA, meanwhile, he is AS, and the woman is also AS; the woman has sufficient grounds to file for annulment of the marriage rather than stay in it and risk giving birth to sickle cell carriers.

A case for an annulment of a marriage can be initiated by either of the spouses in a marriage. The spouse initiating the annulment must prove beyond doubts that he or she has sufficient grounds to ask for the annulment and if he is able to convince the marriage tribunal or court, the marriage will be declared null and void by the church or court, depending on the institution he approached. Beyond deceit, other grounds on which marriages can be annulled are: bigamy, forced consent, marriages prohibited by law, inability to consummate a marriage, mental illness or incapacity and under-age marriage.

Bigamy is simply marrying a person while already legally married to another person. Some people will wonder where polygamy comes in, in all this. These polygamous men did not marry their second, third or other wives in court or church. They were done in African traditional marriage ceremonies. As for Islam, it allows Muslims to marry more than one wife.

So there is no case of bigamy, at least in Nigeria, as long as you did not marry two or more women in court. Annulment can also be sought and granted where one of the spouses was forced or threatened into marriage and only entered into it under duress. We see many of such forced marriages in Africa and Asia. Marriages that are prohibited by law can also be annulled. Such marriages include a father marrying hisdaughter, a mother marrying her son and two siblings marrying each other.

Also, if either spouse was mentally ill or emotionally disturbed at the time of the marriage and concealed it from the other party, the aggrieved spouse has the option to file for annulment and it will be granted if the case is proven.

The same thing applies in the case of mental incapacity where either spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the marriage and was unable to make informed decisions. In addition, minors cannot go into marriage without the consent of the parents or court approval. If a minor were to go into marriage without meeting these two conditions, it is sufficient ground for annulment of the marriage. In Nigeria, the age of majority is 18. That is when you are considered an adult.

READ ALSO: Divorce is no joke, shouldn’t be option in your marriage ― Juliet Mgborukwe

Finally, inability to consummate a marriage is a major ground for annulment of the marriage. Consummation means the couple must have sexual intercourse after becoming husband and wife, for the marriage to be valid.

For instance, two parties have been engaged in pre-marital sex, but the man had an accident which rendered him impotent before the marriage and he concealed it from the other party. After the marriage, if he is unable to engage in sexual intercourse, that marriage is voidable and can be annulled at the instance of the aggrieved party. All the pre-marital sex they engaged are of no consequential. It is not recognized in church or law. In fact, for God, it is a grievous sin.

Since the column started over six years ago, divorce has never been a topic, and it is deliberate. This column is meant to promote marital stability and happy marriage. I have no interest in promoting divorce, but we can review some of the causes of divorce so that we all know the landmines to avoid.

One, lack of communication. Couples must constantly engage in empathic, sincere and genuine communication. Once couples are open to each other, there is no problem in their marriage that they cannot discuss and work through. Two, lack of forgiveness. We have a divine instruction to forgive one another. Moreover, as humans, we will always err, so forgiveness is imperative. But as I have said before, know your spouse’s red line and do not cross it. Do not also cross the red line just because he/she has a divine obligation to forgive you.

Other factors include financial issues, lack of intimacy, infidelity, weight gain, constant bickering, unrealistic or differing expectations, abuse, immaturity, addictions, differences in parenting styles, insecurity, external interference, extreme jealousy, lack of contentment, differences in religious orientation, long physical separation, deceit, inability to resolve conflict, absence of shared vision, defective courtship… we can go on and on.

The basic difference between divorce and annulment is that adivorce legally ends a valid marriage, whereas an annulment declares the original marriage invalid. In Christianity, especially Catholicism, it is more fundamental. A divorcee cannot remarry. If he/she does, he/she is excluded from participating in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. But a person whose marriage is annulled can remarry, because it is assumed that he was never married because the earlier marriage has been voided. Annulment can be granted by both the church and the courts, but the processes are different.


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