Annulment of Marriage in Singapore
1. An Overview



If you have been married for less than 3 years, you will be unable to apply for a divorce unless you are capable of proving exceptional depravity and hardship.

An alternative for you may be applying to annul your marriage instead.

Nevertheless, following Chapter 3 of the Women’s Charter, an annulment may only be granted if your marriage is void or voidable in law. If you do not meet the conditions to annul your marriage, you may have to wait for your marriage to be 3 years old before applying for a divorce.

1.1. Time Limits

An annulment for your marriage may only be applied for and filed within the initial 3 years of your marriage.

Therefore, if you have been married to your spouse for more than 3 years, you may only be permitted to apply for a divorce if you wish to terminate your marriage.

2. Void Marriages



A void marriage is a result of a flawed formation of marriage, or void ‘from the beginning’ with a valid marriage never being formed. A marriage that is void is automatically annulled, regardless of whether a judgment of nullity is obtained.

If a formal judgment of nullity is required, either you or your “spouse” can apply to annul it. Section 104 of the Women’s Charter provides that you or your spouse may file a writ claiming for a judgment of nullity in respect of your marriage.

2.1 Situations Where A Marriage May Be Void

 

Section 105 of the Women’s Charter sets out an exhaustive list of situations where a marriage is Void:

a) Muslim Marriage solemnized or registered under the Women’s Charter (Section 3(4) of the Women’s Charter)

Muslim marriages should be solemnized under the Administration of Muslim Law Act, not the Women’s Charter. Therefore, Muslim marriages solemnized under the Women’s Charter will be regarded as void.

b) Underage Marriage (Section 21 of the Women’s Charter)
An individual under the age of 18 can only be married after obtaining a special licence granted by the Minister under s. 21 of the Women’s Charter.

Thus, if at the time of the marriage, either ‘spouse’ is under the age of 18 and gets married without a special marriage licence; the marriage is void.

c) Incestuous marriage (Section 10 of the Women’s Charter)
Two individuals who are closely related are prohibited from marrying one another, such as mothers and sons, fathers and daughters and siblings.

However, in rare instances, the Minister may grant a special marriage licence permitting marriages between close relatives and marriages under such a licence are not void.

d) Polygamy (Section 22 of the Women’s Charter)
If, at the time of the marriage, one ‘spouse’ was already legally married to another person, the second ‘marriage’ will be regarded as void.

e) Marriage not between man and woman (Section 12 of the Women’s Charter)
If, at the time of marriage, the union was not between a male and a female, it will be declared void.

f) Marriage not properly solemnized (Section 22 of the Women’s Charter)

The marriage was:
(i) Not solemnized by the Registrar or a person with a licence to solemnize marriages and
(ii) Not solemnized before 2 credible witnesses

g) Invalid overseas marriage (Section 105(b) of the Women’s Charter)

In a situation where the marriage is celebrated outside of Singapore, it is invalid for lack of capacity (i.e. the person was not able to be married) or invalid by the law of the place in which it was celebrated.

3. Voidable Marriages



A “Voidable Marriage” is one that is legally valid until it is annulled by a judgment of nullity and will only be considered annulled from the time of the judgment and thus, may still be challenged.

Thus, if your marriage is a voidable one and you do not obtain a judgment of nullity, your marriage will still be considered a valid one.

3.1 Situations where a marriage may be voidable
S. 106 of the Women’s Charter sets out an exhaustive list of situations where a marriage is considered voidable:-

a) Non-consummation due to inability (Section 106(a) of the Women’s Charter)
 
This refers to a situation where a marriage is not consummated because either you or your spouse is unable to consummate it, for example where a husband is impotent.

In this situation, either you or your spouse may apply to annul the marriage.

b) Non-consummation due to refusal (Section 106(b) of the Women’s Charter)
 
This is a situation where the marriage is not consummated because you or your spouse knowingly refuses to consummate it. In this situation, the party who refused to consummate the marriage cannot apply to annul it and only the other party can apply for an annulment.

However, do take note that if the lack of consummation is due to any other reason, such as having a mutual agreement between both of you to never engage in sexual intercourse for example will not be a valid ground for a judgment of nullity, as that marriage will not be voidable.

It is also important to take note that the inability to conceive is irrelevant, as consummation is unrelated to conception.

c) Lack of valid consent to marriage (Section 106(c) of the Women’s Charter)
 
If either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, that marriage may be voidable.

Some examples of situations where consent is not valid include consent that is given under duress (threats or coercion), consent given resulting from a mistake, or due to the consenting individual suffering from a mental disorder preventing him or her from giving valid consent.

In this instance, either you or your spouse may apply to apply the marriage and if you wish to do so, you must apply for annulment within 3 years of the date of your marriage.

d) One party unfit for marriage (Section 106(d) of the Women’s Charter)
 
At the time of marriage, if either you or your spouse was considered unfit for the marriage as they were suffering from a mental illness under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2008, either you or your spouse may apply to annul the marriage and do so within 3 years of the date of your marriage.

e) Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) at the time of marriage (Section 106(e) of the Women’s Charter)
 
If either you or your spouse was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form (i.e. STD) at the time of marriage, and you or your spouse was unaware of it at that time, only the spouse who was unaware of the disease can apply for annulment and must do so within 3 years of the date of marriage.

f) Spouse impregnated by third party (Section 106(f) of the Women’s Charter)
 
In this situation, if your wife was impregnated by someone other than yourself at the time of marriage and you were unaware of it at that time, only you may apply for annulment and must do so within 3 years of the date of marriage.

4. Annulment Procedures

You will need to file a writ of nullity in court along with a statement of particulars setting out the grounds of annulment (s. 104 of the Women’s Charter). From then, the individual who files the writ will become the Plaintiff and the spouse becomes the Defendant.

If you are unclear with which ground is most suitable for your situation, you may consider engaging a specialist divorce lawyer to advise you and assist you with preparing and filing the necessary documents.

After all the necessary documents are presented in court, the court will consider your case. If they are satisfied that the grounds of annulment have been fulfilled and there are no grounds to refuse the annulment, the court will grant a judgment of nullity.

Uncontested annulments require a mere 4 or 5 months to be processed. From then, the marriage will then be considered officially annulled.

5. Situations Where a Court Can Refuse to Grant an Annulment



The court can refuse to grant an annulment if they believe that the plaintiff (you or your wife, depending on whom commenced the annulment proceedings) has not proved his or her case, or if the conditions for a judgment of nullity are not fulfilled.

For example, if the plaintiff does not produced enough evidence to prove that the defendant (his or her spouse) refused to consummate the marriage, the court can refuse to grant the annulment.

The court will also refuse to annul a marriage if the defendant (you or your spouse) satisfies the court that:-

a) The plaintiff knew that the marriage was voidable but behaved in a manner that led the defendant to believe that he/she would not seek to annul the marriage and

In other words, if you were aware of any of the above (e.g. that your spouse had a venereal disease but you married him or her anyway), that ground of annulment would be invalid.

b) It would be unjust to the defendant to grant the annulment – situations which are unjust is provided for under s. 107 of the Women’s Charter

In other words, if you were aware of any of the above (e.g. that your spouse had a venereal disease but you married him or her anyway), that ground of annulment would be invalid.

6. After The Annulment



If you or your spouse succeeds in proving that the marriage is annullable, the court will grant a Judgment of Nullity and your marriage will be dissolved. When the Judgment of Nullity is issued, the annulment takes effect from that time onwards.

Nevertheless, any of your children born in the marriage will still be regarded as legitimate children (s. 111 Women’s Charter).

It is important to note that an annulment has a different division of property as compared to a divorce. Therefore, if such a division is not in your favour, an annulment may not be the best option for you.

7. Difference Between An Annulment And A Divorce



Both an annulment and a divorce are legal processes in dissolving a marital union in Singapore. However, the difference between the two lies in the fact that while the former voids a marital contract, the latter ends a marriage.

A divorce follows a process, where the party whom is unhappy files a petition that is served to his or her spouse. This is followed by a date of hearing being set, commencing the process. The court will look at the evidence of the case and make a ruling. Even though divorcing is commonplace in a modern society, as there is a social stigma attached to it, resulting in some Singaporeans seeking other legal processes to terminate their marriage.

An annulment is often seen as an alternative to divorce, and it is a legal procedure which works on the basis that the marriage was not valid in the first place and thus declares it null and void.

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Having handled over 10,000 divorces since 2006, Ms. Beatrice Yeo, the Founder and Principal Lawyer of the firm, is widely acknowledged as one of the best divorce lawyers in Singapore.

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