Since the introduction of divorce, civil annulments fell out of fashion. Prior to 2011 a married person in Malta could only re-marry if he or she obtained civil or church annulment. Following the introduction of divorce, parties are still free to seek to annul their marriage rather than going for a divorce. Given that divorce is far less litigious and the procedure is more straightforward most people rather opt for the divorce rather than annulment.
What is Civil Annulment?
Through the process of annulment, the Family Court will examine whether a marriage is legally valid or not. The court examines the situation at the time that marriage was contracted and if the court finds that one or more of the requisites necessary to establish marriage are missing it holds such marriage as null. When the Family Court finds that at the time of contracting marriage there was a ‘defect’ in the intention of the parties about their responsibilities as spouses the courts are likely to pronounces that marriage as null.
The following are the leading causes for granting an annulment according to the Malta Marriages Act (articles 19, et seq).
- Previous Marriage. A person who is already married may not re-marry unless the previous marriage is dissolved either by annulment or through a divorce.
- Freedom to marry. A marriage wherein one or both spouses have been forced into is null. Therefore marriage is null if the consent of the parties is extorted by physical violence or psychological threats. Likewise, the marriage is also null if the consent of the parties has been extorted by inducing fear of similar violence in any of the parties.
- Fraud about some quality which of its nature seriously disrupts matrimonial life. Spouses to be are expected to inform each other about the private life before contracting marriage. If a spouse conceals information and such information seriously disrupts matrimonial life, the marriage could be annulled. Therefore if a party does not inform the other about a serious problem (such as a serious sickness, psychological problem, a previous marriage, etc…) then the Court could find that marriage to be annullable.
- Capacity to understand Matrimonial life. The fact that one or both parties failed to understand the most important and essential duties of matrimonial life may give rise to annulment. The law speaks about ‘a serious defect of discretion of judgment on the matrimonial life, or on its essential rights and duties’ and therefore not every misunderstanding and misconception about matrimonial life will give rise to annulment. However if a spouse does not understand that when contracting marriage one is binding himself in an irrevocable way and that matrimonial life is about mutual surrender and acceptance, there could be a rise for an annulment of marriage under this ground. Therefore if for example, two persons rush into marriage in order to legitimize an unwanted pregnancy, this could be a ground for annulment.
- Serious psychological anomaly. There could be a ground for annulment if a party suffers from a serious psychological anomaly that makes it impossible to fulfil the essential obligations of marriage, then this could be a ground for annulment. The psychological anomalies must be difficult for the person to live with and not merely make life uncomfortable.
- Impotency. Where one of the parties is incapable of having sex, either with his or her spouse or with any other person, however, such incapability has to precede the marriage. The impotence may not be permanent since it is very difficult to medically provide the permanence of potency. However, there must be proof that such impotency exists and precedes marriage.
- Simulation. The marriage will be void if the objective for contracting marriage will be to achieve some other result. Simulation need not be total (where the one party intends to exclude all matrimonial obligations), but may be partial (where one party only intends to exclude a number of the matrimonial obligations assumed).
- Consent is given with certain conditions. Marriage will be annulled if consent is given subjective to a condition that goes against matrimonial obligations. Marriages have been annulled because the consent was given on the ground that the marriage would not bear any children, since bearing children is a matrimonial obligation.
- Marriage is contracted without sufficient powers of intellect or volition to elicit marriage. It is immaterial whether a person is interdicted or not. If a person does not enjoy his intellect at the time of contracting marriage, then it could not be said that that person freely entered into marriage. The defect in intellect could be of a temporary nature or of a permanent nature.
- Refusing to consummate marriage. A valid marriage may be annulled at the request of one spouse on the ground that the other spouse refuses to ‘consummate’ (i.e. this means the first act of sexual intercourse between two individuals after the marriage). Therefore if one of the parties is unable to consummate the marriage or intends to refuse to consummate the marriage, then this is a ground for an annulment.
Children who have been born in marriages that has consequently been annulled will be deemed to have been born in marriage.