Most people are familiar with the idea of divorce, but many are less familiar with another way of ending a marriage: annulment. If you are looking to end your marriage, you may want to learn more about this divorce alternative and how it works.
Both annulment and divorce are legal ways to end a marriage, but they have distinct implications and requirements under Washington State family law. Before you pursue either one, you should know what each option entails, how they’re different, and how they align with your circumstances.
Annulment vs. Divorce in Washington State
In Washington State, annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void, treating it as though it never legally existed. It goes a step further than divorce by effectively claiming that the marriage is invalid.
However, annulment is not an option for most couples. There are limited circumstances that can be considered grounds for an annulment:
Void Marriages. Annulments are an option for marriages that are prohibited by law. These include:
- Underage marriages: one or both spouses were under the age of 18 and did not have parental consent, or under the age of 17 even with parental consent.
- Incest: the spouses are related to a degree closer than second cousins.
- Bigamy: one or both spouses are either married to or in a domestic relationship with someone else.
Voidable Marriages. Marriages between spouses who were legally allowed to marry can still be declared invalid under certain circumstances. These circumstances can include:
- Fraud: one spouse defrauded the other spouse about something essential to the marriage.
- Force: one spouse could not give valid consent to the marriage due to threats of physical violence.
- Duress: one spouse could not give valid consent to the marriage due to coercion.
- Incompetence: one spouse could not give valid consent due to insanity, intoxication, or some other reason.
You can consult with a family law attorney to find out if your situation meets the requirements for an annulment. If you choose to pursue this option, you must prove your marriage meets the annulment requirements, a step you could avoid with a divorce.
People often pursue annulments for social or religious reasons. For instance, some religions will only allow a former spouse to remarry if the first marriage was annulled under specific circumstances. Some people also prefer the closure of having their marriage declared legally invalid.
As with divorce, annulment proceedings can involve property divisions, spousal support, child custody, visitation, and child support arrangements. Keep in mind that if your annulment is granted, the court will make decisions about these matters.
The Annulment Process
Annulment in Washington State begins with filing a petition with the Superior Court of the county where you or your spouse live. Your “Petition to Invalidate a Marriage” should include basic information about your marriage and the issues that the court will need to decide, like spousal support, the division of property, and custody of any children. It should also state your grounds for an annulment.
During your trial, you will need to submit evidence of your grounds for support. Both spouses may call witnesses and be represented by counsel.
If you can successfully prove your case to a judge, the court may declare your marriage to be invalid. It may also rule on issues like custody or property division. If you do not manage to prove your case, your petition for annulment will be denied, although you can still choose to pursue divorce.
What is Divorce in Washington State?
Divorce, also known as “dissolution” in Washington State, is a legal process that terminates a valid marriage. It dissolves a marriage without claiming that the marriage wasn’t valid.
Washington State is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that neither party needs to prove wrongdoing or establish grounds for divorce. Instead, a spouse can simply assert that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
In Washington State, divorce proceedings involve dividing property and debts, determining spousal support (if applicable), and establishing child custody, visitation, and child support arrangements. However, these matters are usually left up to the divorcing couple to settle unless they cannot come to an agreement. All of these proceedings are guided by Washington State family law statutes.
Understanding Annulment vs. Divorce Differences in Washington State
While both annulment and divorce provide legal solutions for ending marriages in Washington State, there are a few key differences:
- Legal Status: Annulment treats a marriage as though it never legally existed. Divorce terminates a valid marriage.
- Grounds and Requirements: Annulment requires establishing specific grounds, while divorce in Washington State does not. Instead, a couple can get divorced if a spouse asserts that the marriage is irretrievably broken. There is no need to prove invalidity, fault, or wrongdoing.
- Property division and financial support: Since annulments go through court, the court will make decisions on these matters. You may not get much say in which assets and debts you end up with. In a divorce, you can be more involved in these decisions, although the court will still step in if you and your spouse cannot agree.
- Child custody, visitation, and support: If you get an annulment, the court will also make decisions about any children you have together. Here again, a divorce allows you to be more involved in child-related decisions unless you and your spouse cannot agree.
What About Property Division, Spousal Support, and Child Arrangements?
Aside from the differences listed above, divorce and annulment proceedings tend to be fairly similar.
In Washington State, both annulment and divorce involve dividing the property and debts acquired during the marriage. Washington follows the principle of “community property” in most cases. This means that marital assets and debts are generally divided equally, unless there is a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement stating otherwise.
Spousal support, also known as alimony, may be awarded in both annulment and divorce cases. Courts in Washington State consider factors like the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial situation, and their contributions during the marriage to determine who should provide support and how much.
If the former couple has children, then the proceedings will need to address child custody, visitation, and child support. The goal is to resolve these issues in the best interests of the child. Washington State follows guidelines that prioritize the child’s well-being in custody and support determinations.
Need a Family Lawyer?
If you are considering an annulment or divorce in Washington State, you will likely want guidance from an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with Washington State family law. The Anderson Hunter Law Firm can provide the support and expertise you need to navigate the intricacies of Washington State family law. We will help protect your best interests throughout the legal process.
Contact the Anderson Hunter Law Firm today to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney. We are here to provide you with accurate information and guidance tailored to your specific situation.