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Women would not be entitled to what would otherwise have been their dower rights, and all children born of the union would be declared illegitimate.If a desperately unhappy couple thought there was a chance they could obtain an annulment, they would perhaps try, but considering the limited grounds on which an annulment would be granted, and the possibility that even if the case could be proved an annulment would not necessarily follow, it is perhaps not surprising that few couples bothered.
The courts were far more concerned about restituiting marriages than dissolving them.
Yet, as always, there was some disparity between theory and practice.
The court would have to take into consideration the practical effects of dissolving the marriage, such as the welfare and maintenance of any children the couple had.
It could easily be proven with a simple calculation if one or both partners was underage at the time of marriage, but again proof would not necessarily be enough to persuade the courts to declare the marriage invalid.
On top of this, it would be necessary to prove that once the couple had come of age, they had not then given their consent to the union.
If it seemed they had, for no matter how brief a time, then the marriage would be a legally binding one, even if it had not been consummated.
In these circumstances, the best a couple could hope for was a "divorce from bed and board".
This would not dissolve the marriage bond, and thus they would be unable to re-marry, but it would give them legal permission to live apart.
Indeed, non-consummation was no guarantee that a case would be successful.
In 1715 for example, Sir George Downing and his wife Mary tried to get their marriage of fifteen years annulled.