Washington Court Denies Annulment

A trial court must grant an annulment to parties married outside Washington if the court finds the marriage was void or voidable pursuant to the laws where the marriage was contracted, unless it was subsequently validated. RCW 26.09.040(4)(c).  A wife recently appealed a court’s denial of her petition for a Washington annulment.

According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the parties had a ceremonial marriage in India in 2009 and subsequently moved to the U.S and lived together as spouses for several years. They had a child together in 2014.  The husband moved out in 2017 and the wife petitioned for legal separation.  She subsequently amended to petition for annulment.  She alleged the husband had fraudulently represented having registered their marriage in Indian, and that, because he had actually failed to register, the marriage was legally void.  The husband asked the court to dissolve the marriage instead.

The primary issue at trial was whether the marriage certificate was signed and registered pursuant to Indian law.  The wife offered evidence of irregularities in the certificate the husband used in his immigration.  She presented an authenticated document from India stating there was no record of the marriage.  The husband presented a partially-signed marriage certificate.  The wife argued it was probably forged.  The husband also submitted a fully-signed version of the marriage certificate with his supplemental briefing.  The trial court denied the wife’s motion to strike it.

The trial court determined there was a valid marriage, based primarily on the marriage certificate submitted with the supplemental briefing.  The court ruled in the alternative that even if there were procedural flaws in the marriage, the parties had ratified it through their conduct. The trial court denied the petition for annulment and issued a final order of divorce.

The wife appealed, challenging the findings regarding the marriage’s validity and the application of ratification.

The appeals court concluded the wife had not shown a failure to register the marriage certificate made the marriage void or voidable.

The parties got married in India.  The wife introduced the India’s Special Marriage Act of 1954 as the applicable Indian law. Marriages must be registered pursuant to Section 16 of that Act.  Void or voidable marriages are addressed in Sections 24 and 25, which list circumstances that render a marriage void or voidable.  Sections 24 and 25 do not refer to unregistered marriages.

The appeals court noted that procedural flaws do not necessarily make a marriage void or voidable.  Although Washington parties must obtain a license before the ceremony, the failure to do so does not make the marriage either void or voidable.

The appeals court concluded that the evidence did not show the marriage was either void or voidable.  Even if the trial court was erroneous in apply ratification or abused its discretion in allowing the submission of the marriage certificate after trial, the determination the marriage was valid had to be affirmed.  The appeals court also rejected the wife’s request for attorney fees because she did not prevail on appeal.

Although the appeals court concluded the evidence did not show the marriage in this case was void or voidable, annulment may be available in a number of circumstances, including prior undissolved marriage or domestic partnership, consanguinity of the parties, or lack of capacity of a party to consent to marriage.  A knowledgeable Washington family law attorney can advise you on whether annulment may be an option in your case and help you through the annulment or divorce process. Schedule a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC, by calling (206) 622-6562.


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