Washington Annulments: Basics of the Divorce Alternative
Last week a potential client asked me a unique question. “Can’t we just pull a Kim K and get an annulment?” He’d only been married a few months and thought it would be an easy solution. The truth is, in most cases annulment isn’t an option. Even Kris Humphries divorced Kim Kardashian, although he requested an annulment.
What is an annulment in Washington? Washington’s version of an annulment is called a declaration of invalidity. Unlike divorce, which ends a marriage, a declaration of invalidity cancels a marriage. Essentially it wipes it clean from the record like it never occurred in the first place.
If you think a declaration of invalidity may be the right option for you, this article will cover how to qualify for a declaration of invalidity, how to petition for one in Washington, and the common benefits of the declaration.
- Requirements to file a declaration of invalidity
- Declaration of invalidity process
- Benefits of a declaration of invalidity
Requirements to File a Declaration of Invalidity
In order to successfully file a declaration of invalidity both parties must be alive and at least one of the spouses must be a Washington resident or stationed in Washington as a member of the armed forces.
If you fit the above criteria you’ll need to prove one of the following:
Underage: The marriage is invalid because of the age of one or both of the spouses. If the parties were married and had not reached the age of consent they need proper parental or court approval. In Washington, you need parental consent if you are under age 18 and a special license from the court if under 17.
Example: If Chris and Angela are both 17 and marry without the consent of their parents either of them can later petition for invalidity. However, if they continue to live together as a married couple after reaching age 18 they can’t later claim invalidity for being married as minors.
Prior Marriage: The marriage is invalid because one or both of the spouses was still married or in a prior domestic partnership that was not terminated.
Example: Don has been separated from his first husband Jeff for 5 years, but they’ve never filed for divorce. He marries James. The second marriage to James can be declared invalid because Don cannot marry James, since he is still legally married to Jeff.
Consanguinity: The marriage is invalid because the spouses are too closely related. In Washington, it is prohibited to marry anyone nearer of kin than second cousins. Specifically, it is unlawful to marry siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.
Example: Tina and Adam were married in July. Adam was adopted as a child and hasn’t been in contact with his birth family. In December, Adam contacted his birth mother and found out that he is actually a first cousin of Tina. The marriage can be declared invalid because they are too closely related.
Lacked Capacity: The marriage is invalid because one of the spouses did not have the mental capacity to marry. This can occur if someone marries while intoxicated, declared insane, or mentally incapacitated to the point that they can’t understand the consequences of their decisions.
Example: Britney and childhood friend Jason were partying in Las Vegas. On a drunken dare they walked into a twenty-four hour wedding chapel and got married. The next day they realized they’d made a big mistake. Since they were under the influence of alcohol the marriage can be invalidated.
Marriage By Force: This marriage is invalid if you can prove that you only married because of the threat of force or duress. If you were threatened into marriage it may be invalid.
Example: Frank and Martha have been together on and off for years, but Martha has never agreed to marry Frank because he’s violent when he drinks. One afternoon he shows up on her doorstep drunk and in a blue suit. He tells Martha that if they don’t drive to the courthouse and marry she’ll regret it. Martha is scared and drives them to the court and signs the papers. Martha can get a declaration of invalidity as soon as it’s safe for her to do so.
Fraud On The Essentials Of Marriage: This marriage is invalid if there was a major misrepresentation that a spouse relied on when agreeing to marry. There are no defined examples, so this is a bit of a catchall.
Example: Bob proposes to Julie, but she will only agree to marry on the condition that they have children. Bob agrees and says that he wants children as well. As soon as they marry Bob tells Julie that he is not interested in having children and will not change his mind. Since the condition to have children was essential to the marriage, Julie may be able to get it declared invalid.
The last requirement in all these instances is that the relationship ends as soon as the reason for invalidity is no longer an issue and is discovered. For example, you can’t annul a marriage based on lack of capacity from intoxication if you continued to live as a married couple for a month afterwards while sober. Similarly, if Julie had stayed married to Bob after he told her that he didn’t want children she couldn’t use that to justify the declaration of invalidity later on.
Declaration of Invalidity Process
If you qualify to invalidate the marriage, the next step is to file the proper paperwork with the local county superior court. The paperwork is very similar to the paperwork filed for divorce and many of the same forms are used.
To initiate the case you’ll need to file a Petition to Invalidate (Annul) Marriage. You’ll also file a Confidential Information Form and Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage. At this point the case will go one of two ways depending on if your spouse signed the petition.
One, if your spouse did not join the petition you’ll need to serve them the appropriate paperwork and notify them about the action to invalidate the marriage. The court will set a hearing date and you’ll be able to present the facts, which justify the declaration of invalidity. You’ll also need to prepare additional forms to present at the hearing.
Two, if your spouse joined the petition it means that they agree that the marriage should be declared invalid. You may be able to present it to a judge on the same day it is filed or you may need to wait until your hearing. Regardless, the process should be much simpler. As long as the facts support the request to invalidate the marriage a judge should grant it.
Keep in mind that the court will not only decide on the validity of the marriage, but also make decisions on related items like property division, spousal maintenance and child support.
On a related note, if children were born during a marriage that is later determined invalid, they are still considered legitimate children in Washington. This is important because they’ll have the right to inherit from their parents and the right to be supported.
If you’re curious what other paperwork may be required here’s a link to the most common forms used in an invalidity proceeding.
Benefits of a Declaration of Invalidity
An invalidity proceeding is not subject to the ninety-day waiting period like divorce. This speeds up the whole process. In some cases a judge may sign the declaration of invalidity on the same day it is filed.
In some cases marriage can cause a person to lose certain benefits. If the marriage is later invalidated a spouse may be eligible for the benefits once again.
One of the best examples of this is spousal maintenance. Maintenance payments terminate if the spouse receiving payment remarries. For instance, if John were entitled to permanent spousal support, but remarries then payments stop. If later on his marriage were invalidated he would once again be eligible for the permanent spousal support from his previous marriage.
Psychologically the declaration of invalidity appeals to people because it wipes the marriage from the record. Emotionally it can be an easier move forward, since legally the marriage never happened.
Similarly there are religious and social benefits to a declaration of invalidity. Although the stigma for divorce is less than it used to be, some religious groups don’t believe in divorce and other groups may shun a member that’s been divorced. If you’re worried about the stigma of divorce affecting your relationships, invalidating your marriage may appeal to you.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of declaration of invalidity in Washington I hope you understand if it’s an option for you. If you have further questions or need help with your own invalidity proceeding, please give me a call at 206.409.4086 or send me an email. Thanks for reading.