The concept of marriage annulment is very familiar but commonly misunderstood. There’s a misconception that marriages can be annulled if they lasted only a short period of time, but that isn’t the case. There are only a handful of circumstances under which a marriage can be ended through this process rather than divorce.

In Washington State, the official term for annulment is a “declaration of invalidity” (DOI). In today’s post, we’ll discuss the limited scenarios that allow for the granting of a DOI.

Difference Between Invalidity and Divorce

Getting a divorce is the way to end a marriage that was considered legally valid. The legal record will forever note that you were once married to this person. If you are granted a DOI, however, it is as though you were never married (because the marriage should not have been allowed).

Grounds for Invalidating a Marriage

Some grounds for declaring invalidity or granting annulment are the same in every state. They include:

  • Incest – Marrying a family member too close in relation to you (in Washington, it is anyone closer than a second cousin)
  • Bigamy – A marriage in which at least one spouse is already married to someone else and the previous marriage has not been ended by divorce or death

Other grounds for invalidity/annulment in Washington are similar across many states (though the specifics may vary). They include:

  • Underage spouse – If either spouse is younger than 17 and hasn’t obtained a waiver from a superior court judge (not just parental consent), the marriage is considered invalid
  • Not competent to give consent – One spouse was unable to consent to the marriage due to intoxication, cognitive disability, insanity or incapacitation
  • Married under duress or force – One spouse only consented to the marriage because they were coerced or were threatened with force.
  • Commission of fraud – One spouse lied to the other about something directly related to the marriage (typically which would have stopped wedding plans if the truth had been known). Examples could include lying about pregnancy by another man or hiding the fact that one was incapable of having sexual intercourse.

As you can see, the circumstances under which you can obtain an DOI are narrow and do not apply to most marriages. That being said, if you believe you qualify for a DOI, an experienced family law attorney can help you file a document called a Petition for Declaration Concerning Validity and represent you in the subsequent legal hearing. If you have questions or want to learn more, contact our office to speak to an attorney today.