/ Divorce / Legal alternatives to divorce

Are there any legal alternatives to divorce In Northern Ireland?

Divorce isn’t the only way to end your marriage. 

Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to end your marriage using other legal procedures, such as nullity or judicial separation.


This guide outlines general topics you should be thinking about if you want to get a divorce in Northern Ireland. But it is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact a specialist divorce solicitor for advice on your specific circumstances.

Are there any legal alternatives to divorce In Northern Ireland?

Before you issue your divorce petition, it’s worthwhile to remember that divorce isn’t the only way of ending a marriage.

Alternative ways of ending your marriage include nullity or judicial separation. Whether these are options for you will largely depend on your circumstances.

You can read a bit more about them below and decide if they might be applicable to your situation.


  • Judicial Separation

This is similar to divorce, but you technically remain spouses in the eyes of the law.

One situation where judicial separation could be preferable might be where one party is opposed to the divorce (for example, on religious grounds).

Judicial Separation relies on the same facts as divorce, but the court does not have to find that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The marriage does not end legally, but there is no longer an obligation to cohabit.

The court can make orders for ancillary relief, but as you will still technically be spouses, you can be entitled to a share of the other spouse’s pension, for example.

So there may well be situations where a spouse would be financially better off with a judicial separation rather than a full divorce.

You cannot remarry while judicially separated, but there is nothing stopping you from presenting a petition for divorce at a later point.

The law on judicial separation can be found in Arts 19 – 20 of the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order 1978.


  • Nullity

Nullity treats your marriage as if there were legal flaws with it from the start – meaning that it is therefore only reasonable that it could be brought to an end.

The main advantages of nullity over divorce is that you do not have to wait for 2 years before commencing proceedings – but nullity is only available in strict circumstances.

The first category of circumstances – where nullity is an option – is when your marriage was void. This means that is was never a valid marriage in the first place.

Situations where this would apply would be in cases of:

  •      incest;
  •      one party being under 16 years;
  •      invalidity by any reason of non-compliance with any rule of law;
  •      bigamy;
  •      parties are not male and female; or
  •      polygamous marriage entered into outside Northern Ireland.


The second category of circumstances is where the marriage is voidable.

voidable marriage is one that has legal flaws, but can exist until one spouse applies to have it made void, and a decree is issued to that effect.

Situations where a marriage could be voidable include when:

  • the marriage was not consummated because of incapacity (or persisting wilful intention) of either party; (this ground requires medical evidence)
  • either party did not validly consent to the marriage because of duress, mistake or unsoundness of mind;
  • either party was incapable of giving consent (e.g. they had a mental disorder);
  • one party had VD (STI), or was pregnant to another person at the time (not available where the other party knew).

The law of Nullity can be found in Arts 13-18 of the Matrimonial Causes (NI) Order 1978.

An annulment won’t necessarily be granted in every situation – you can find some of the bars to nullity here.

Note that if you are considering an annulment, you should apply for it within three years from the date of the marriage.

Depending on your individual situation, judicial separation and nullity can be effective alternatives to divorce. If you feel that either could be an option for you, a divorce solicitor would be able to advise you in greater depth as to whether you might be eligible.

They are certainly options that are worth exploring before you commence your divorce proceedings.

The above article is part of our guide on how to get a divorce in Northern Ireland.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should get in touch with a Northern Ireland specialist divorce solicitor who will be able to provide advice tailored to your own personal circumstances.

If you have any questions, you are very welcome to get in touch.

All the best,

The Team @ Lightlaw
Every effort is made to keep this guide up to date. Although it is not to be regarded as legal advice, we strive to make sure the information is helpful, accurate and practical. If you are a Northern Ireland divorce solicitor and have spotted an inaccuracy, you can submit a suggested change.
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