Earlier this week, the news that Eleanor McCain, heiress of the McCain foods empire, was seeking an annulment of her marriage to Toronto Symphony Orchestra president Jeff Melanson was splashed across major Canadian media outlets. The articles referred to Ms. McCain’s annulment application, in which she stated she was seeking an annulment, instead of a divorce, so that she might “treat the marriage… as if it never existed.”

While divorce is quite common in Canada, annulments arise far less frequently. For those unfamiliar with the term, an annulment is a court declaration that the marriage is invalid. If a court declares the marriage to be annulled, it is unnecessary to get a divorce.

Some religions allow for religious annulments. It should be noted that religious annulments will not legally void a marriage. Under Canadian law, even if you obtain a religious annulment, you and your spouse will remain married until a judge makes a declaration of annulment.

So, why would anyone bother getting an annulment instead of a divorce? Annulments are more appropriate than divorce in specific circumstances. For example, if one spouse was already married when he or she married the other person, divorce would not be appropriate because the marriage is invalid. In Canada, a person cannot be legally married to two people. Another example in which an annulment would be appropriate is if one spouse was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage ceremony. If a court finds that the marriage is invalid, it will make a declaration that the marriage is void and it will be as if the marriage had never happened. However, it is important to keep in mind that even if a marriage is annulled, the parties may still able to make claims against each other about the custody of children, payment of support and division of property, depending on the specific circumstances.

 If you have additional questions about annulments or about any other family law matter, please contact family lawyer Jason P. Howie, online or at 519.973.1500.