The Basics of Annulment in Washington

Can you get an annulment? Get an overview of the annulment process in Washington.

Washington state’s version of annulment is called a "declaration of invalidity." This article explains the declaration of invalidity, tells you how to get one, and describes the effects of a declaration of invalidity in Washington.

If you have additional questions after reading this article, contact a Washington family law attorney for advice.

What is a Declaration of Invalidity?

Although both are used to end a marriage, a declaration of invalidity and divorce are different. A divorce ends a valid marriage, while a declaration of invalidity (just like its name hints) means a court has decided that there was never a valid marriage in the first place.

What are the Grounds for a Declaration of Invalidity?

You need a legal "ground" (reason) to have your marriage declared invalid in Washington. Washington recognizes the following seven grounds:

  • Underage – a spouse was too young to be married in Washington
  • Bigamy – a spouse has another living husband or wife
  • Incest – the spouses are related, closer than first cousins
  • Incompetence – a spouse was mentally unable to consent to the marriage; insane, intoxicated, or incapacitated
  • Duress – one spouse was coerced into getting married
  • Fraud – a spouse defrauded the other about something essential to the marriage, and
  • Force – one spouse got married only because of threats or physical force.

Other details about these legal grounds:

In Washington, you must be at least 18 to get married, or at least 17 with a parent’s consent. If a spouse was underage at the time of marriage but continues to live with the other spouse after turning 18, the marriage won’t be declared invalid.

If a spouse was incompetent at the time of marriage because he or she was insane, intoxicated, or incapacitated, but continues to live with the other spouse after they are able to consent, the marriage won’t be declared invalid.

For a marriage to be declared invalid based on incompetence, one spouse had to be impaired to the point that he or she couldn’t understand the marriage itself.

For a marriage to be declared invalid because of fraud, the fraud has to be directly related to the marriage. In other words, without the fraud, the marriage would have never happened. Examples of fraud that may invalidate a marriage include: hiding the fact that one can't engage in sexual intercourse, hiding a venereal disease, or hiding pregnancy by another man.

If a spouse wants the marriage declared invalid because of force or duress, the force or duress had to exist at the time of the marriage. If the spouses freely continue to live together after the force or duress is gone, the marriage won’t be declared invalid.

How Do I Get My Marriage Declared Invalid?

In Washington, you need to file a document called a “Petition for Declaration Concerning Validity” in the superior court of the county where either you or your spouse lives.

Your petition should list the full names for you and your spouse, and each spouse’s last known address. If you have children, list their names and dates of birth. You’ll need to state the date and location of your marriage, and the date you last lived together. You should state your legal grounds to have your marriage declared invalid. Your petition should also state everything else you want the court to decide: child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.

After you file your petition, you have to serve a copy of it on your spouse. The superior court clerk’s office where you file your petition can explain your options to serve your spouse, including options if your spouse lives out of state or can’t be located.

The superior court will hold a hearing where you’ll have to prove the legal grounds why your marriage should be declared invalid. If the judge believes you’ve proven your case, the judge will sign a declaration of invalidity.

Effect of an Invalid Marriage

Having your marriage declared invalid means that the court has decided that no valid marriage between you and your spouse ever existed.

The judge who declares your marriage invalid can make the same orders that are made in a divorce - child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and property division.

Children of invalid marriages are still considered legitimate in Washington. Legitimate children have the right to be supported by both parents and can inherit from both parents.

Resources

To read the full text of Washington law on annulment, see the  Revised Code of Washington, Chapters 26.04 and 26.09.

Contact information for each of the  Washington superior courts is here.

Find a sample  Petition for Declaration Concerning Validity here.

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