To a layperson the difference between a ‘marriage’ that never happened and a marriage that is subsequently declared null and void from the start may seem to be of little or no consequence. After all, in either event there was no marriage. Why, then, would two people spend some £300,000 arguing over such an issue?
The answer is that if a marriage is annulled then the parties can ask the court to make financial orders in the same way as if there had been a divorce. The value of those financial orders may, of course, significantly exceed the sum of £300,000.
Whether the financial orders that will be made in the case K v K will be worth that much we may never know. However, that was the motivation behind the petitioner seeking a decree of nullity, rather than simply accepting, as the respondent argued, that the events in the case amounted to nothing that was capable of being recognised as a marriage.
The essential facts in K v K, which was decided by Mr Justice Francis in the High Court last November, were as follows:
- The petitioner married a Mr. Z in Pakistan in 1972. That marriage was terminated by talaq in Pakistan in 1994, by which time the petitioner was living in England.
- The respondent was married to a Mrs. B, and that marriage probably lasted until her death in 2015.
- The parties entered into a relationship and went through a marriage ceremony at a Shia Mosque in London in 1999. The petitioner claimed that at the time she believed the respondent was divorced from his ‘first wife’. Whatever, by the time the case went before Mr Justice Francis it was common ground between the parties that this 1999 marriage was not something that is recognisable as a valid marriage between them under the laws of England and Wales.
- Later in 1999 the petitioner, according to her evidence, had real concerns about the status of that marriage. Worried about how she and the respondent might be perceived by family or friends in the Pakistani community if they continued to have an intimate relationship where they might not be legally married, the petitioner immediately stopped having a sexual relationship with the respondent.
- That relationship did not recommence until August 2003 when, according to the petitioner, the parties went through a second marriage ceremony, this time in Pakistan.
- The respondent denied that there had been a second marriage ceremony, claiming that the petitioner made it up, including forging the marriage deed.
As counsel for the petitioner said, one of the parties was obviously lying, and it fell to Mr Justice Francis to decide who. As set out in his judgment, he found that the respondent had lied on a number of points. For example, at an earlier hearing the court gave him the opportunity to instruct an expert to examine the marriage deed and establish whether it was a forgery, but he claimed that he did not know about this, as he had not been represented at that hearing. However, the court record clearly showed that he had been represented. He also claimed that the petitioner had not gone to Pakistan in August 2003, but her passport clearly showed that he had. He claimed that the petitioner had never visited the property in Pakistan where she claimed the marriage took place, but the petitioner produced a photograph showing her and the respondent outside that property.
And so it went on. Mr Justice Francis concluded by saying that he had “no hesitation” in preferring the evidence of the petitioner over that of the respondent. He therefore found that the 2003 marriage ceremony did take place, and that after that the petitioner honestly believed that the respondent was divorced from his first wife and that, with effect from the date of the ceremony, she was lawfully married to the respondent. Accordingly, the petitioner was entitled to a decree of nullity, on the grounds that the respondent was still married to his ‘first wife’.
You can read the full report of K v K here.