Annulment is a term in family law that many are familiar with. This is probably partially because of the dramatic circumstances that can lead to annulments (ex. Britney Spears in 2004). Most people understand the term to mean that there was something wrong at the time of marriage that makes the marriage invalid, and so the parties (or party) may annul the marriage and go back to life like the marriage never happened. While Washington State does not have a legal action called an “annulment,” it does have a process whereby a person can obtain a declaration of invalidity. The result of the declaration of invalidity is the same as the annulment process: the marriage is over without the need for a divorce.
Many people are excited about the idea of ending their marriage without the need for the divorce process (called the “dissolution process” in Washington), however only specific (and rare) circumstances satisfy the requirements for obtaining a declaration of invalidity. Petitioning the court for a declaration of invalidity is not a common occurrence, even for experienced family law attorneys. The court may grant a declaration of invalidity in the following circumstances:
- One or both parties were not of legal age to consent to marriage (must be at least seventeen)
- Parental consent was not obtained for people married at age seventeen
- One (or both) spouse(s) were already married to another person
- The spouses are too closely related by blood
- One (or both) party did not have the requisite capacity to consent to the marriage because of the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of mental incapacity
- One spouse was induced to enter into the marriage by force or duress or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage
Even if these circumstances exist, the court will not enter a declaration of invalidity if the parties ratified their marriage after the circumstance leading to the marriage being invalid has been cured. For example, if a person who was intoxicated at the time of the marriage to the point that he or she could not consent to the marriage continues in the marriage for two years and then seeks a petition for invalidity, the court will likely find that the marriage is valid. If a party wants their marriage declared invalid, the party would be wise to petition the court as soon as possible to reduce the risk that the court find that their marriage has been ratified.
The forms used for the process of obtaining a declaration of invalidity can be found at the Washington Court’s website. Many people may initiate the invalidity proceeding including guardians of one of the spouses, children of one or both spouses and more. See RCW 26.09.040 to determine what people may initiate an invalidity action under what circumstances.
If you think your marriage is invalid and you would like to obtain a declaration of invalidity, it would be wise for you to speak with a family law attorney about your case. Time is of the essence in many family law cases, but this is especially true in family law cases where one party is seeking to have their marriage declared invalid. If you want to speak with a Washington family law attorney in the Seattle area, we would be honored if you choose to contact us.