Annulment in Washington

What is an annulment?

Annulment is a legal action that cancels a marriage. Unlike a divorce, which ends a marriage, annulment wipes it from the record, so that it effectively never occurred. In Washington State, a person would file a declaration of invalidity if they planned to annul their marriage. 

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What qualifies you for an annulment?

In order to qualify for an annulment in Washington your marriage must be invalid for one of these reasons:

1) Underage
2) Prior Marriage
3) Consanguinity
4) Lacked capacity
5) Marriage By Force

6) Fraud On The Essentials Of Marriage

Underage

A marriage can be annulled if either of the individuals are underage. You must be over 18 to marry in Washington without any special permissions. If you are under 17 you need a special license from court. If you are 17 years old, you need parental consent.

Example: Jason and Melissa are both 17 years old and marry without parental consent. Either can request an annulment for an underage marriage. However, this must be done in a timely manner. If they don’t request an annulment until years later, they can’t claim invalidity for being married as minors, since they stayed married once they’d reach adulthood.

Prior Marriage

A person is not allowed to be legally married to two people at the same time. If you find that your spouse was not divorced from a previous spouse, you can request an annulment. Your marriage would be invalid since the prior marriage or domestic partnership was never terminated.

Example: Matt separated from his first husband Jeff 5 years ago. He believes Jeff filed the divorce paperwork, but Jeff didn’t complete the process. In 2020, he married James. If James finds out that Matt’s first marriage is still active he can request an annulment. This second marriage to James is invalid because Matt cannot remarry until he divorces his first husband.

Consanguinity

Consanguinity is the technical term for being closely related. Washington prohibits marriages of anyone more closely related than second cousins. In short, you are not allowed to marry your children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers or sisters.

Example: Jess and Robby were married in April. Robby doesn’t know his birth parents and grew up in an adoptive family. In July, Robby is contacted by his biological father. It turns out, Robby is a first cousin of Jess. Jess and Robby can file for annulment, since they are too closely related.

Lacked Capacity

If you marry while unable to comprehend what you’re doing the marriage can be annulled. You’ll commonly see these when someone marries while heavily intoxicated. This can also occur if someone married who is mentally incapacitated or declared insane.

Example: Stu went to Las Vegas for a bachelor party and woke up the next morning with a wedding ring on. He didn’t remember much, but later found out that he’d married a woman named Jade. That day he realized he’d made a big mistake. Since Stu was under the influence of alcohol the marriage can be annulled.

Keep in mind, Stu needs to annul the marriage within a reasonable amount of time. For example, he can’t remain in the marriage for six months and then ask for an annulment. After enough time passes, a court will say he chose to stay married, even after the effects of alcohol wore off, so an annulment is not proper.

Marriage By Force

If you were threatened into a marriage it can be annulled. Commonly the threat is violence, but other serious threats are valid as well. Keep in mind, it’s important to request the annulment once it’s safe to do so. If the threat passes and you wait to file for an annulment it may not be allowed.

Example: Bob and Judy have dated for years, but Judy won’t marry Bob. He’s a mean drunk and it scares her. One afternoon, he stumbles into her home. He’s wearing a suit and tie and is in an aggressive mood. He tells Judy to drive them to the courthouse. He says they’re getting married and warns her not to say no. Judy drives to court and they sign the marriage certificate. Because Judy married under the threat of violence she can annul the marriage once she’s safe and away from Bob.

Fraud On The Essentials Of Marriage

This last option is a catchall. In short, you can annul your marriage if you agreed to marry your spouse based on a major misrepresentation. In other words you were lied to by your spouse and the lie was one of the major reasons that you chose to marry. The statute doesn’t contain specific examples, so you’ll need to consult an attorney if you believe your marriage can be annuled for this reason.

How To Annul A Marriage?

In order to annul your marriage you’ll need to start an annulment case in superior court. First, you’ll file the following three forms: 1) Petition to Invalidate (Annul) Marriage, 2) Confidential Information Form and 3) Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage.

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.

Your spouse has the option to join your petition, meaning they agree with the annulment and the legal requests you’ve made in the paperwork. If that is the case, the annulment process should be relatively simple. As soon as you’re eligible, sometimes that same day, you can present final orders to a judge who can sign off on the annulment.

If your spouse refused to join the petition, you’ll need to notify them about the annulment filing and serve them the proper paperwork. The court will set a hearing date and you’ll be able to present the facts, which justify the annulment. You’ll also need to prepare additional forms to present at the hearing. You can find the most common annulment forms here.

How Long Can You Be Married And Still Get An Annulment?

The key question is not how long you have been married, but how long you have been dealing with the issue that justifies the annulment. For example, if you married on a whim while heavily intoxicated, you need to file for the annulment a short time after you sober up.

On the other hand, if you were forced into a marriage under the threat of violence, you are not safe. You could be in that dangerous situation for some time before you can come forward. The amount of time you’re married doesn’t matter, only that you request the annulment, once you’re free from that situation. However, if you choose not to file even after the danger has passed, then you may need a divorce to end the marriage instead of annulment.

How Are My Children Affected by Annulment?

A court will still issue a parenting plan and order child support. In addition, if children were born during a marriage that is later annulled, they are still considered legitimate children in Washington. This is legally important because they don’t lose the right to inherit from their parents or the right to be supported.

How Long Does An Annulment Take?

How long an annulment takes will depend on if it is agreed to. With an agreed case it can take as little as a few days to a couple weeks. A contested annulment could take a few months to a year.

Just like other areas of family law, you and your spouse are in control of the outcome. If you’re willing to go to mediation or at least to talk through issues at home, you can often complete the process much faster and for far less money. 

Learn More About Other Family Law Services

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Adoption

Legal Separation

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Bankruptcy

Mediation

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Child Support

Name Changes

Spousal Support

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Parenting Plans

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Domestic Violence

Paternity

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