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In Law, what is Nullity?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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In law, nullity means a contract, arrangement, or law is treated as if it doesn’t exist and never did. For example, a married couple may seek an annulment for this purpose. If it is granted, their ties are severed in a manner that is different from divorce. It is as if they were never married. Sometimes contracts and legal arrangements are nullified by a judge. In other cases, however, existing laws or changes in laws render contracts or legal situations null and void, which basically means without effect and invalid.

In many cases, a contract, legal arrangement, or situation created in accordance with a jurisdiction’s laws has some type of legal effect. If the parties to a contract want to make changes to it, for example, they typically have to agree or get a judge to change it. Once they’ve come to an agreement or received a court judgment, changes to contracts or situations are usually considered legally enforceable and binding. The history of the contract or arrangement, however, and any legalities that are carried on despite the changes would usually remain in effect legally. When something is rendered null, however, it is wiped away as if it never existed.

One of the best ways to understand how nullity works is to consider an example that compares the effects of nullity to the effects of divorce. When a person wants to nullify a marriage, he may seek an annulment to legally erase the marriage. Instead of dissolving the marriage, an annulment declares the marriage invalid, which means that technically the two people involved were never really married to each other. If either spouse wants to marry later, he can legally state that he was never married before.

A divorce works a little differently. First, it does not erase the marriage; it simply dissolves it. Once the marriage is over, the legal fact remains that spouses were married at one time. Sometimes they may have a continuing claim on each other. For example, one spouse may have a legal right to certain types of benefits because of the former marriage. Despite the fact that the parties have divorced, legal records will show that the former spouses were previously married to each other.

Nullity is often granted because one or more parties to a contract request it, but it may also happen in other ways. For example, if a contract is created in a manner that is not consistent with the jurisdiction’s laws, it may be rendered null and void. In some places, it may occur when a person is forced or coerced into a contract or signed a contract when he was not of sound mind. Sometimes nullity is granted when a party to a contract or legal arrangement is incapacitated or when promises are made verbally instead of in writing. It may even occur when a party to a contract or agreement dies before the contract terms are fulfilled.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

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Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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