The decision to end your marriage is complex. If you no longer want to be married, you can ask for a divorce or for a court to invalidate (annul) your marriage. Deciding between an annulment vs. a divorce, however, isn’t straightforward. Both have processes and legal requirements that you must meet under Washington law.
Below is a general description of annulments and divorces in Washington. If you are considering getting an annulment or a divorce, you can take the guesswork out of the legal hurdles you face by speaking with the experienced attorneys at Bolan Law Group.
Annulment vs. Divorce in Washington
What is an annulment vs. divorce? In Washington, divorce and annulment are the two primary ways to end a marriage. However, there are several differences between annulment vs. divorce. First, what is required to obtain an annulment vs. a divorce in Washington differs. With an annulment, however, you are asking the court to rule that your marriage was not legally valid, and thus the marriage is null and void. Conversely, divorce ends a legally valid marriage.
What Is a Divorce in Washington?
A divorce is a court procedure that formally ends a legal marriage. The divorce process in Washington begins with one party filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. So as you can see, a divorce presumes the marriage was valid when the parties entered it.
Grounds for Divorce
Every state sets forth the legal reasons, or grounds, that people can use to get a divorce. Washington is a no-fault state. This means that the parties do not have to place blame on each other to get a divorce in Washington. Instead, one of the spouses simply alleges that the marriage relationship is “irretrievably broken” with no hopes of reconciliation.
Divorce Procedure in Washington
There are several steps involved in getting a final divorce decree in Washington. Suppose both parties agree on all relevant issues, including child support, parenting arrangements, division of assets and debts, and spousal support. In that case, the parties must wait for 90-days to elapse after filing and serving the petition for dissolution of the marriage. After the waiting period, the judge can grant the divorce.
If the parties do not reach an agreement while the case is pending, the case would ultimately go to trial. Each side would get to put on his or her “case” and a judge would make a decision.
Proof Required for Divorce
One of the biggest differences between annulment and divorce in Washington is the evidence required. For a divorce, you simply need one spouse to claim that the marriage has broken down with no hope of resolution.
What Is an Annulment?
An annulment also ends a marriage. However, in an annulment, one of the spouses believes that the marriage should have never occurred in the first place. Thus, when a court issues an annulment, the court declares that the marriage was not legal or valid. Both parties are placed in the position they were in before the invalid marriage—as single people rather than divorced people.
Grounds for Annulment
In Washington, an annulment is a judicial determination regarding the validity of a marriage. Unlike in a divorce, the Washington state law on annulments lists specific grounds for an annulment. A spouse must allege and prove one of the legal grounds before a judge can grant the request. The grounds for annulment in Washington state are as follows.
- Underage: If one of the spouses was not legally old enough to marry when the marriage took place, this could be grounds for annulment. In Washington, you must be 18 to marry or have parental consent.
- Bigamy: If one of the spouses has another current living spouse, this can nullify a subsequent marriage.
- Consanguinity: This means that the spouses are too closely related to each other to be lawfully married. Generally, you can’t marry someone closer than a second cousin in Washington.
- Lack of Capacity: This ground alleges that one of the spouses didn’t have the mental capacity to marry, typically due to intoxication, mental incapacity, or insanity. You cannot use this ground if the couple continues to live together after capacity returns.
- Force or Duress: This applies if one or both of the spouses married under threats of physical force or duress. However, if the couple continues to live together after the threat or force is gone, then you cannot annul the marriage.
- Fraud: If one spouse lied to or defrauded the other spouse about something material to the marriage, you could qualify for an annulment.
Generally, it doesn’t matter how long the marriage lasted for an annulment. If you can prove one of the above grounds and meet all of its requirements, you can request the court to invalidate your marriage.
Proof for Annulment
You and your attorney will have to gather witnesses and credible evidence that support the reason you are giving for your requested annulment. Then, you must demonstrate the evidence proving your grounds for the annulment at a hearing before a judge. Because of the proof requirements, annulments are not as common as divorces in Washington.
Why Get an Annulment vs. a Divorce?
Since it’s harder to get, why would people want an annulment vs. a divorce? Some people get an annulment for religious reasons or to avoid perceived social stigma. However, there are other reasons.
In a divorce, a court will generally have to categorize marital property as either separate or community property. The separate property is limited to property owned before the marriage and its profits and property that the spouse received as a gift or inheritance individually. Then, a court allocates the remaining community property between the spouses.
You might think if the marriage wasn’t legally valid, that means that there is no community property. And, depending on your circumstances, that might be true. While a court might still decide how to distribute property between the parties in an annulment—more often than not, there are fewer issues to deal with in annulments. You should discuss your case with an experienced attorney to determine which option is better for your situation.
Our Attorneys Can Help with Annulments and Divorces
The difference between an annulment vs. a divorce is complicated. You need experienced family practitioners who can help advise you on your rights concerning each and will help you gather evidence and strategize this next step in your life. Bolan Law Group. can help you with every step of either process and will fight for what you’re entitled to under the law. Contact us today.