Civil annulments are uncommon in Ontario as most separating spouses in Ontario choose to get a divorce. Annulments deem a marriage invalid, rendering the marriage null and void, as if it never happened. Essentially, an annulment means your marriage never occurred in the eyes of the law.
Annulments are granted under a few specific grounds:
1. One of the spouses does not have the capacity to marry or could not consent to the marriage. Section 7 of Ontario’s Marriage Act states no one shall issue a licence to or solemnize the marriage of any person who lacks the mental capacity to marry by reason of being under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs or for any other reason. Predatory marriages, where a financially motivated person marries an elderly person to gain access to and control over their property, assets and estate, can fall under this category if the victim spouse does not have capacity and ability to recognize and resist the predatory spouse’s influence and its consequences.
2. One of the spouses is underage and did not seek parental consent. Under section 5(2) the Marriage Act, a minor who is sixteen years or more, can marry in Ontario if they have the consent of both parents.
3. If the spouses are closely related either by blood or adoption. Under the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act, marriages between siblings, including half-siblings, and adopted siblings, are prohibited and voidable.
4. One of the spouses is already married to another person, without the knowledge of the other spouse. In Canada, you cannot be married to more than one person simultaneously. Further, under section 290(1) of the Criminal Code, a married person who enters into another marriage or a person, knowing that another person is married, marries that person, can be charged with bigamy.
5. The marriage was entered into under fraud, duress or fear. This includes threats of physical violence and cases of mistaken identity. Marriages entered into for immigration purposes will not be annulled solely for that reason.
6. The marriage was not consummated. In Ontario, this is the most common ground for annulment. A refusal to consummate a marriage is not sufficient grounds to have a marriage annulled. A spouse needs to be unable to consummate the marriage due to an incapacity or disability, either physical or psychological. In the recent case of Razavian v. Tajik, 2019 ONSC 5662, the court annulled the parties marriage due the respondent’s severe anxiety about physical intimacy.
Contrary to popular opinion, the length of a marriage is not considered a ground for annulment in Ontario. Thus, even if you were only married for a few days, this in itself would not be grounds for an annulment.
Just because your marriage did not legally exist, you may still have legal obligations and rights against the person you married. For example, claims for support, child custody and access, and equitable remedies for property division can still arise if a marriage is annulled.