A case recently hit the news of a 14 girl who had been forced to marry a man almost twice her age. The girl, who has remained unnamed, reports being subjected to violence and threatened with a gun before the ceremony and then forced to consummate the marriage resulting in the birth of her son, now aged 1. When Authorities were informed what had happened, the girl and her son were taken into care.
The Court were asked to declare the marriage void. Unfortunately the judge, Mr Justice Holman, stated that although the girl was under extreme duress and aged under 16 at the time of the marriage, he was barred by statute from granting a declaration that the marriage was void. It will now be up to the girl herself to apply for a Decree of Nullity.
The girl’s barrister, Vanessa Meachin stated “she is the victim of forced marriage and rape. She is 17 and struggling with the complexities of the two sets of legal proceedings that she is already involved in. It is unrealistic to consider that she is presently equipped to proceed with a petition for nullity’.
One of the arguments for the Judge to grant the Decree is that the girl may be stigmatised by her family for taking this step.
In England and Wales, marriage is governed by The Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The minimum age of marriage is 16, however those under 18 must obtain parental consent. Marriages which take place abroad in accordance with the law of that country are generally recognised in England and Wales, provided both parties have the legal capacity to marry.
A marriage can be annulled where either party did not validly consent to it, whether due to duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise. A petition for a Decree of Nullity must be brought within three years of the date of the marriage. A forced marriage is usually valid until it is voided. An arranged marriage is not, of course, invalid as such; but it may be voidable.
Mr Justice Holman did acknowledge that on the balance of probabilities – the standard of proof for civil cases – the marriage outlined above would be void under English Law. It is unknown as yet whether a petition will be lodged.
Protective measures are in place to prevent forced marriages taking place and of course steps can be taken to have such marriages annulled. Our experts can provide you with legal advice on forced marriage so if you are worried that you will be forced to marry, or are already a victim for forced marriage, our team of family law solicitors can help. Please get in contact with us today for further advice.