Annulments in Washington State
Divorce and legal separation are the most common options that people choose for dissolving their marriages. However, there are situations where one or both spouses may decide to pursue an annulment, often for social or religious reasons. Unfortunately, annulments are not available for everyone or in every situation. In order to make an informed decision, you need to understand what makes this option unique. To discuss whether an annulment is right for you, a Seattle divorce attorney can provide you with the guidance you need.
Annulments vs. Divorce in Washington State
While both divorces and annulments dissolve a marriage, an annulment is unique in that at its conclusion your marriage is declared invalid. In other words, the court is ruling that you were never validly married. For this reason, an annulment is obtained in Washington State by filing a petition seeking a Declaration of Invalidity.
It is important to note that annulments are available in Washington in only very specific circumstances. If you believe that your marriage was invalid from the outset, you may want to discuss with a divorce attorney whether your case would qualify for a Declaration of Invalidity. You can still seek a divorce even if an annulment is not an option for you.
Why People Pursue an Annulment
There are many reasons why people might pursue an annulment, but they are typically for social or religious reasons as mentioned above. While many religions support divorce and remarriage, there are still others that may require someone to have their marriage annulled before they can remarry.
For social reasons, some context may be helpful – most of the annulments that are granted involve marriages that have lasted less than a year. While the legal effect of an annulment may appear to be the same as that of a divorce, some prefer the closure that comes with having their marriage declared to be legally invalid.
The Annulment Process
The annulment process begins with filing a “Petition to Invalidate Marriage” in the Superior Court of the county where you or your spouse resides. Your petition will contain some of your basic information such as the date and location of your marriage, the names and birth dates of your children, and the date you last lived together. More importantly, your petition will also need to state the specific grounds upon which you are seeking an annulment. Your petition should also lay out all issues that you want to be decided by the court such as child custody, spousal support, and the division of property. Once filed, you will need to serve a copy on your spouse. Failing to serve them with a copy will prevent your case from moving forward.
At the time of trial, you will need to prove your case by submitting evidence supporting the grounds for your annulment. You may be represented by counsel and you may call witnesses. Your spouse will also have an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence.
At the conclusion of trial, the court may declare your marriage to be invalid if the judge feels that you have proven your case. The court may then rule on any other matters such as custody or the division of property.
If the judge does not believe you have proven your case, the court will deny your petition and divorce will be your only other option for dissolving the marriage.
While it may sound simple, the annulment process can be complex. And while the judge may give some leeway to people representing themselves, they will expect you to submit adequate evidence to support your claim that the marriage should be declared invalid. In short, they won’t simply take your word for it. For these reasons, we recommend that you speak with a Seattle divorce attorney before starting the process.
Grounds for Annulment
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to “prove” anything in a divorce such as infidelity. Annulments are different – In Washington State, you must prove one of the following grounds in order to obtain an Invalid Marriage Order (Annulment Decree):
- Underage – one or both spouses were under the age of 18 at the time they were married (or at least 17 with parental consent)
- Bigamy – one or both spouses are legally married to or in a domestic partnership with another person
- Incest – the marriage is between spouses related to a degree closer than second cousins
- Fraud – one spouse defrauded the other concerning something essential to the marriage
- Incompetence – due to insanity, intoxication, or some other reason, one spouse was unable to give valid consent to the marriage
- Force – one spouse consented to the marriage due to threats of physical violence
- Duress – one spouse was coerced into consenting to the marriage
If you cannot prove that your marriage was invalid for one of the reasons above, you will not be able to pursue an annulment. Many people think they may qualify for an annulment under fraud or duress, but we caution you that these grounds are interpreted narrowly. Regardless, whether or not you qualify for an annulment will depend on the facts and circumstances specific to your case. A Seattle divorce attorney can review your situation and determine whether you may qualify for an annulment.
Cohabitation and Other Factors
Unlike divorce, living with your spouse can jeopardize your ability to obtain an annulment. For example, if you were underage when you got married, continuing to live with your spouse after turning 18 could disqualify you from seeking a Declaration of Invalidity. Similarly, if you were incapacitated at the time you were married, continuing to live with your spouse once you would be able to validly give consent may mean that you cannot successfully seek an annulment.
In cases involving force or duress, the force or duress must have existed at the time of the marriage and been a condition upon which you consented to the marriage. In other words, threats of physical harm that arose after the marriage do not entitle you to an annulment. And again, you may not be able to seek an annulment if you continue to live with your spouse once you are no longer threatened.
Annulments involving fraud can be complicated because the fraud must be something “essential” to the marriage. For example, concealing a venereal disease or that your spouse was unable to engage in sexual intercourse would likely be considered valid bases for an annulment. However, once discovered, you could harm your case if you continue to live with your spouse.
If you suspect that your marriage may be invalid for any of the reasons we have discussed, the best thing you can do is talk to a Seattle divorce attorney as soon as possible. They can determine whether you have grounds for an annulment and provide guidance as to what steps you need to take next.
Considering an Annulment? Contact a Seattle Divorce Attorney Today
At Seattle Divorce Services, we empower our clients to move forward at some of the most difficult times in their lives. We do this by helping them understand their options and helping them make informed decisions. If you are considering an annulment and need some advice, contact us at 206-784-3049 to make an appointment today.