Q. My best friend is about to get married or have a civil union to someone they met on the dating app Bumble. I have a number of reasons why I think the marriage should not go ahead.
Can you tell me if it's possible to object to the marriage or civil union and how I could go about that?
Yes, it's definitely possible to lodge a caveat or notice of objection against a marriage or civil union.
You will need to give legal reasons setting out why a marriage or civil union licence should not be issued.
One reason could be that one of the parties is still married to another person. Another reason could be that one of the parties to the marriage or civil union was under the legal age needed to get married.
If the court thinks the objection was not valid, they will cancel it. They can also tell you to pay compensation to the couple if they think the objection was unreasonable or intended to annoy or distress the couple.
An objection normally lasts for one year.
If the court accepts the objection and the legal reasons they will issue an annulment, making the marriage or civil union null and void.
"Annulment" is a term adopted from overseas legal systems, and it does not appear in any New Zealand legislation which impacts marital status.
People who feel the marriage has been a disaster will try to seek an annulment to establish a clean break very early on in the marriage. However, the grounds for such an annulment are extremely rare.
What are the effects of an Annulment?
Where a divorce formally ends a marriage, an annulment goes one step further. When an annulment is granted by the Family Court, a marriage or civil union will be declared void. It is as though the marriage never took place.
Annulments have a greater legal impact than a simple dissolution. This extra impact means that it is much harder to get an annulment.
Requirements of an Annulment
There is no requirement to be separated for two years before applying for an annulment. However there are other requirements which make it much more difficult to obtain.
Any one of the following requirements must be met for an annulment to be granted, making the marriage or civil union void:
• If either one or both of the married parties was less than 16, the marriage can be declared void.
• If one or both of the parties was 16 or 17, and the consent of the Family Court had not been given, the marriage can be declared void.
• If one of the parties to the marriage was already legally married, then the second marriage can be declared void. The party who seeks to be married twice would be liable to commit the crime of Bigamy under the Crimes Act with a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years.
• Where the married parties have a family connection which prohibits them from marrying, the marriage can be declared void.
• Where a party to the marriage was under duress to marry, then the marriage can be declared void. A participant on the TV3 show "Married at First Sight" unsuccessfully attempted to declare the marriage void.
• If either party to the marriage did not consent to the marriage, it can be declared void.
• If the legal technicalities and formalities of the marriage were not completed properly then the marriage can be declared void. For example, if the parties willingly married without a celebrant or Registrar of Marriages.
How easy is it to have an Annulment granted?
It is extremely rare to be granted an annulment. The circumstances for the granting of an annulment are very limited. A few years ago I used to get questions about annulment every week. Yet, in over 4000 cases, I have never had a client who has been successful in having an annulment granted. Many clients have wanted to try though!
As an annulment is not a realistic option for most people, separated parties in New Zealand will need to go through the usual dissolution or divorce process. This means they need to be separated for a period of two years before they apply for the dissolution. Many clients who are unfamiliar with New Zealand law are shocked and even surprised at the two year rule for dissolution and the limited exceptions to have a marriage annulled.
Applying to lodge a caveat or notice of objection against the issue of a marriage or civil union or applying for an annulment is a very rare legal step.
If you're going to do either one, I would advise you to seek professional legal advice. If you lodge a caveat or notice of objection without any legal grounds, you will be subject to a compensation claim.