Decree of Invalidity

I Have Married and Want to End Our Relationship. Is there an Alternative to Divorce?

Yes, you may qualify to ask the court for a Decree of Invalidity. This is the formal mechanism that Washington State utilizes to annul a couple’s marriage. This effectively erases the marriage as if it never existed. This does not mean that other matters, such as children or property, vanish from the courts control (see below), but for practical purposes it can mean everything for the requesting party.

*Domestic Partnerships are also included and can be declared to be invalid under the same circumstances. Also see the Divorce discussion for information on a petition for legal separation.

Who Can File for A Decree of Invalidity?

Either spouse, or their guardian if they are incapacitated, may file for a Decree of Invalidity. In addition, the children, or the former spouse may file in the case of a prior marriage that was not dissolved.

Under What Circumstances Can I be Granted a Decree of Invalidity?

Washington State has codified the requirements for seeking a Decree of Invalidity under RCW 26.09.040, See full text below. This statute provides the court the authority to declare a marriage, or Domestic Partnership, invalid if: The Marriage should not have been contracted because of age of one or both of the parties, lack of required parental or court approval, a prior un-dissolved marriage of one or both of the parties, a prior domestic partnership of one or both of the parties that has not been terminated or dissolved, reasons of consanguinity (close blood relation), or because one of the parties lacked the capacity to consent to the marriage due to mental incapacity, influence of alcohol or drugs, or because a party was induced to enter into the marriage by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of the marriage that has not been ratified by the parties by voluntary cohabitation after attaining the age of consent, or attaining the capacity to consent, or after the cessation of the force or duress or the discovery of the fraud.

I Have Been Married A Short/Long Time. Is There a Deadline for Filing?

No, there is no deadline for filing your action for a Decree of Invalidity. Washington State will grant your request if you qualify under one of the factors for granting a Decree of Invalidity, regardless of the times spans involved. The important thing to remember though is that your future conduct can result in “validating” an otherwise voidable marriage. For example, if you can claim that you were brought into the marriage through fraud or deceit going to the fundamentals of the marriage, but decided to remain in the marriage for a period of time afterwards and live as husband and wife, your conduct may ratify the marriage requiring a divorce action to be filed. Generally, longer marriages are harder to get successfully invalidated because certain claims are weakened (fraud, duress, incapacity or age). Certain defects in the formation of the marriage can be cured, but consanguinity and prior marriages are generally fatal to the formation of a valid marriage; regardless of the future conduct of the parties. In the specific case of prior marriages, it may be possible to have the prior marriage formally invalidated, making it possible to ratify the new marriage without any negative consequences.

I Was Married in Another State/Country, Can I Still Get a Decree of Invalidity?

Yes, Washington State law will apply to your marriage if the jurisdiction is proper. Additionally, the other jurisdictions laws may broaden the horizon of opportunities to seek an annulment of your marriage. Under RCW 26.09.040 if the court finds that the marriage contracted in a jurisdiction other that Washington State, was void or voidable under the law of that jurisdiction, and in the absence of proof that the marriage was subsequently validated by the laws of that place or a future domicile of the parties, Washington will declare the marriage invalid. This does allow for the opportunity to broaden the circumstances that would permit the court to rule in favor of an annulment. For example, other state laws may allow couples to obtain an annulment if the marriage is never consummated.

What Happens to My Children’s Legal Status? Or Property?

The children’s status is not affected by the Decree of Invalidity. With each marriage that is formally concluded there are 5 (five) general factors: 1) The Divorce/Marriage itself, 2) Child Custody, 3) Child Support, 4) Property Distribution, and 5) Spousal Maintenance. When a marriage is declared invalid this affects the status of the parties’ marriage, but the issues of Child Custody, Child Support, Property Distribution and Spousal Maintenance will remain essentially the same. The court will still have the authority to distribute the parties’ property under the trial judges broad discretion granted to provide a “fair and equitable” distribution. The court also retains the authority to make rulings based on the “best interests of the child.” The parties’ marital status may affect life insurance, inheritance, and retirement benefits to name just a few. The degree these issues are relevant depends on the factual circumstances of the parties.

Is There A Waiting Period Involved?

No, there is no required waiting period for a Decree of Invalidity to be issued. The States interest in requiring a 90-day waiting period for the Dissolution of a Marriage rests with the noble objective of giving couples time to reconsider and amicably reconcile. When the marriage itself was invalid it can be argued that the defect in the formation of the union prevails over such noble goals; and the parties have a right to have the validity of their union determined in an expedient manner. Practically speaking, the more agreement that the parties can reach; the quicker the final resolution of their action is going to be. This doesn’t mean that the court looks favorably upon these actions. Don’t be fooled by some of the websites that make promises on their ability to get your marriage annulled. The courts are going to require significant proof prior to granting an order that dissolves a civil union.

Disclaimer:

This is a legal discussion not legal advice. If you are contemplating an annulment, or have questions concerning one, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney about your specific facts. Please call our experienced Family Law attorneys for a free consultation.

RCW 26.09.040
Petition to have marriage or domestic partnership declared invalid or judicial determination of validity — Procedure — Findings — Grounds — Legitimacy of children.
    1. While both parties to an alleged marriage or domestic partnership are living, and at least one party is resident in this state or a member of the armed service and stationed in the state, a petition to have the marriage or domestic partnership declared invalid may be sought by:
      1. Either or both parties, or the guardian of an incompetent spouse or incompetent domestic partner, for any cause specified in subsection (4) of this section; or
      2. Either or both parties, the legal spouse or domestic partner, or a child of either party when it is alleged that either or both parties is married to or in a domestic partnership with another person.
    2. If the validity of a marriage or domestic partnership is denied or questioned at any time, either or both parties to the marriage or either or both parties to the domestic partnership may petition the court for a judicial determination of the validity of such marriage or domestic partnership.
    3. In a proceeding to declare the invalidity of a marriage or domestic partnership, the court shall proceed in the manner and shall have the jurisdiction, including the authority to provide for maintenance, a parenting plan for minor children, and division of the property of the parties, provided by this chapter.
    4. After hearing the evidence concerning the validity of a marriage or domestic partnership, if both parties to the alleged marriage or domestic partnership are still living, the court:
      1. If it finds the marriage or domestic partnership to be valid, shall enter a decree of validity;
      2. If it finds that:
        1. The marriage or domestic partnership should not have been contracted because of age of one or both of the parties, lack of required parental or court approval, a prior undissolved marriage of one or both of the parties, a prior domestic partnership of one or both parties that has not been terminated or dissolved, reasons of consanguinity, or because a party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage or domestic partnership, either because of mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or other incapacitating substances, or because a party was induced to enter into the marriage or domestic partnership by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage or domestic partnership, and that the parties have not ratified their marriage or domestic partnership by voluntarily cohabiting after attaining the age of consent, or after attaining capacity to consent, or after cessation of the force or duress or discovery of the fraud, shall declare the marriage or domestic partnership invalid as of the date it was purportedly contracted;
        2. The marriage or domestic partnership should not have been contracted because of any reason other than those above, shall upon motion of a party, order any action which may be appropriate to complete or to correct the record and enter a decree declaring such marriage or domestic partnership to be valid for all purposes from the date upon which it was purportedly contracted;
      3. If it finds that a marriage or domestic partnership contracted in a jurisdiction other than this state, was void or voidable under the law of the place where the marriage or domestic partnership was contracted, and in the absence of proof that such marriage or domestic partnership was subsequently validated by the laws of the place of contract or of a subsequent domicile of the parties, shall declare the marriage or domestic partnership invalid as of the date of the marriage or domestic partnership.
    5. Any child of the parties born or conceived during the existence of a marriage or domestic partnership of record is legitimate and remains legitimate notwithstanding the entry of a declaration of invalidity of the marriage or domestic partnership.
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