Married at First Sight UK was back on our TV screens not so long ago, and it didn’t fail to disappoint. But the series raises many questions. Why would a stranger choose to marry another stranger and once they have said “I do” is there any going back?

Before you start divorce or dissolution proceedings in England you must ensure that you meet the legal requirements, namely:

  1. The parties must have been married for at least one year.   
  2. The court must have jurisdiction to hear the divorce based on the parties’ habitual residence or domicile.
  3. The marriage must have irretrievably broken down (relying, currently, on one of 5 facts).

But what happens if you do not meet this criterion? What, if like many on Married at First Sight (if the marriage were legal – although in the case of the UK version of the show it is understood not to be) you have not been married for a year when you separate, is divorce your only option?

Before you issue divorce proceedings you may wish to consider marriage or family counselling, reconciliation, separation on an informal or formal basis or mediation.  However, if you do decide to end your marriage is there an alternative to divorce after a very short marriage of less than a year? 

It is possible to argue in some circumstances that a marriage is void and for a decree of nullity to be granted to annul the marriage. The grounds on which a marriage is voidable include:

  1. Incapacity or wilful refusal (of the respondent) to consummate the marriage. This only applies to marriages of the opposite sex. For a marriage to be consummated, only one act of consummation is necessary, and it must take place after the solemnisation of the marriage.
  2. Lack of consent. This includes “duress, mistake unsoundness of mind or otherwise” However, if a party does not consent to the marriage and later changes their mind, the marriage will be valid.
  3. Mental disorder. If either party is suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the marriage within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983 – although somewhat archaic the legislation states that this should be “of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfitted for marriage”.
  4. Sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy (by a person other than the petitioner). A wife may not however use the grounds that her husband fathered a child with another woman prior to the marriage.
  5. Gender recognition. An interim gender recognition certificate has been issued after the marriage or that the respondent is a person whose gender at the time of the marriage had become the acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
  6. Sham Marriage. Where a couple marry but do not intend to be husband and wife. This most often occurs for immigration purposes.

In practice, these circumstances will rarely arise and therefore it is often necessary for the couple to wait until they have been married for 12 months to start divorce proceedings.  During that time it is possible to reach an agreement about the basis on which the proceedings will be issued and financial matters which can be recorded in a separation agreement.

Anecdotally, according to other versions of the show (e.g. in the US) do involve a legally binding marriage with a short pre-nuptial agreement being signed to ensure that couples exit the marriage with what they walk into the marriage with.  This is an interesting concept and probably one for another article ….!

If you would like to discuss any point mentioned in this article further, contact our family team on 01753998885, or email

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