At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
A void marriage is a marriage which was not legal from the start, and was therefore never recognized in the eyes of the law. Partners in a void marriage who wish to separate do not need to take any special steps to do so because, legally, they are not married. Likewise, in a void marriage there may be disputes over property rights and other issues, because the partners are not married and thus rights which would be automatically extended are not available.
Several things can cause a marriage to be void. One is a law which forbids marriages of that form; for example, some nations ban same-sex marriage. Some countries have bans on marriages in which the partners are closely related. If, for example, a brother and sister marry, they may have a void marriage. Likewise, bigamy is not allowed under law in some regions. In situations where someone is married to someone else and fails to dissolve the marriage properly before remarrying, the second marriage will be a void marriage because it is considered bigamous.
One thing to be aware of with a void marriage is that certain rights extended to married couples will not be available. This can become especially problematic when one partner dies. It may be possible for the partner's will to be challenged on the basis of the argument that the couple was not married.
A void marriage is not the same thing as a voidable marriage. Voidable marriages are marriages which the law accepts as legal unless they are challenged, in which case the marriage can be annulled. Some examples include marriages in which one or both parties are underage and marriages in which one partner is impotent. Marriages in which one partner behaved fraudulently to enter the partnership, marriages in which coercion or force was used to enter into the marriage contract, and marriages in which one partner lacked the capacity for consent may also be voidable.
In a voidable marriage, someone can challenge the marriage, and the court may rule it void and allow the partners to separate. However, if the partners live together after the circumstances which make the marriage voidable are revealed or they take other steps to legalize the marriage, such as obtaining parental consent for an underage marriage, the marriage is no longer voidable. In these situations, divorce proceedings must be pursued in order to legally separate.