Annulments in Washington DC

A legal annulment is a judgement of the court that a marriage is invalid. A legal annulment cancels the marriage—the legal effect is as if the marriage had not taken place at all. A religious annulment is different from a legal annulment. Check with your clergy if you want to learn more about religious annulments. A legal annulment is also different from a divorce. A divorce ends a valid marriage.

Can I get my marriage annulled?

In DC, annulments are very rare. Marriages can be annulled only in limited circumstances, which do not occur very often. The law in DC allows you to ask the court to annul your marriage only if:

  • At the time you married your spouse, one of you was unable consent to the marriage because of mental incapacity;
  • You married your spouse as a result of your spouse’s force or fraud;
  • At the time you married your spouse, you were under 16 years old, and you did not voluntarily continue to live together as husband and wife after you turned 16 years old;
  • At the time you married your spouse, one of you was already legally married to someone else; or
  • You married a close relative.

If the court finds that you meet one or more of these requirements, it can enter a decree annulling your marriage.

Do I have to get a court order for my marriage to be annulled?

If you are seeking a legal (not religious) annulment, you must get a court order if you are seeking an annulment because:

  • At the time you married your spouse, one of you was unable consent to the marriage because of mental incapacity;
  • You married your spouse as a result of your spouse’s force or fraud;
  • At the time you married your spouse, you were under 16 years old, and you did not voluntarily continue to live together as husband and wife after you turned 16 years old;

These are called voidable marriages.

However, some marriages are legally void from day one (that is, the people were never legally married at all). The law in DC does not recognize the following types of marriages:

  • The marriage of close relatives or
  • The marriage of any persons, either of whom has been previously married and whose previous marriage has not been terminated by death or a decree of divorce (that is, one of the people is still married to someone else).

If either of these circumstances applies to you, you do not need to get an annulment or a divorce because you were never legally married. However, you may still want to file for an annulment in order to have clear proof that your marriage was void.

What if I was married by common law?

The requirements for an annulment are the same for any marriage, whether by ceremony or common law.

Is DC the right place to for me to seek an annulment?

You can ask for an annulment in DC if you were married in DC or if you are a current DC resident.

Who can ask for an annulment?

If the annulment is sought because the person was under the age of consent and that person is still legally a minor (under age 18), the minor’s parent or guardian can ask the court for an annulment on behalf of the minor. If the annulment is sought because the person has been declared to lack mental capacity to consent to marriage by a judge, that person’s guardian can ask for the annulment.

Except in the case of a minor or person without mental capacity, the person who is “at fault” cannot seek the annulment. For example, the person who committed fraud cannot be granted an annulment on the grounds of his or her own fraud. If the person who is at fault wants to end the marriage, he or she must file for a divorce. Only the person who is not at fault can be granted an annulment.

How can I file for an annulment?

You can consult an attorney about your case, or you can file your case yourself. You can get the necessary court pleadings (legal documents) at https://www.dcbar.org/for-the-public/legal-resources/Family.cfm.

What if my spouse files for an annulment but I disagree?

You can file a Contested Answer telling the court the reasons you disagree and asking the court not to grant the annulment.

What other issues can the court address when an annulment is granted?

If you and your spouse own property or have children together, you can ask the court to address those issues. If you and your spouse reach an agreement about any of these issues, the court can enter an order that reflects your agreement. If you disagree, you would have a hearing and then the judge would decide.

Can I get alimony?

The court could award temporary alimony while you are waiting for the annulment to be finalized, but you cannot get alimony after the annulment is final.

When is the annulment final?

After the hearing, if the judge grants an annulment, you will get a copy of the order. Your annulment will be final 30 days after the “docketing date,” which could be a few days after the hearing. Either party may file an appeal within those 30 days and also ask the court to stay the annulment order (that is, hold it without making it final). If the stay is granted, the order becomes final once the appeal is resolved. If the stay is denied, the order is still final after the 30 days. If you both agree that you do not want to appeal the judge’s order, you can file a Joint Waiver of Appeal; there will not be a 30-day waiting period and the order will be final immediately.

For more information about Annulments:

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to call me at 202-872-0400.

To annul a marriage, you must generally meet one of the following conditions:

  • Incest: The spouses are close blood relatives.
  • Bigamy: One or both of the spouses were knowingly married with another person at the time of the marriage.
  • Underage: A spouse was under age at the time of marriage and did not obtain proper parental consent or a court order permitting the marriage.
  • Prior Existing Marriage: A spouse erroneously remarried under the mistaken belief that his or her prior marriage was ended due to the death of the prior spouse, who is in fact still alive.
  • Unsound Mind: Either party could not and has not formed the intent to marry due to a mental condition resulting in the failure to understand the nature of the marriage and the obligations that come with it.
  • Fraud: A spouse deceived the other spouse regarding a significant matter that led to the marriage.  Only the deceived spouse may file under this category.
  • Force: Threats or acts of harm were used to force one spouse into entering the marriage.

To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that one of these above reasons are true for you. These are short, simple statements of the reasons an annulment is permitted. Each reason has further details that must be proven to the court. Proving that there is a legally valid reason to be granted an annulment can be very challenging. Talking to an attorney to help you understand what you need to show a judge will help clarify your expectations.

Most annulments take place after a short amount of time, but some do not take place until years later. There may be a limited window during which you may file for an annulment. This period of time may vary depending on the reason an annulment is being requested.

If an annulment is granted, it means that the marriage was never valid, so you may not have the same rights and obligations that couples who file for divorce may have. There may be complicated issues regarding marital property and child support and custody which may arise. It is helpful to talk to an attorney to determine if an annulment is a viable option for you.

I am experienced with the law regarding annulments and can help guide you through this difficult process. Please call me at 202-872-0400 to set up a consultation where I can help explain your rights and responsibilities under the law.

Geoffrey S. Platnick
Shareholder – Family Law Attorney

Washington, DC Office
Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A.
730 12th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 872-0400

Potomac, MD Office
Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A.
12505 Park Potomac Avenue, 6th Floor
Potomac, Maryland 20854

gplatnick@shulmanrogers.com
T 301.231.0927 | F 301.230.2891

www.shulmanrogers.com

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