What is a civil annulment, and how does it differ from a religious annulment?

When you consider ending your marriage, divorce is often the most common solution. However, there is another way you can legally end your marriage—through an annulment. This legal procedure cancels a marriage and legally declares that it did not exist and was not valid. There are two types of annulment—civil and religious—and you may wish for one or both, depending on your personal needs and situation. If you choose an annulment over a divorce, it’s important to know the difference between the two types and how to get legal help. Choosing annulment over divorce

Civil Annulments in Washington State

In the state of Washington, a civil annulment is usually reserved for special circumstances, as it is a more powerful legal option than divorce. Like a divorce, a civil annulment will terminate a marriage. However, unlike divorce, the annulment will also invalidate the marriage entirely as though it never happened.

Washington is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that either partner can initiate a divorce without needing a reason other than believing that the marriage is irreparable. However, an annulment must have statutory legal grounds to be granted, or a divorce is probably the better legal option. Some of the reasons the court may grant a civil annulment include:

  • One or both parties were underage. In Washington, you must be 18 years old to get married or 17 with parental consent and a petition for special circumstances.
  • Multiple spouses. Bigamy (having more than one spouse) is not legal under Washington law and is grounds for annulment.
  • Close relations. Incestuous marriages are not permitted and may be annulled.
  • Mental incompetence. If a spouse was determined to be mentally incompetent at the time of marriage because she was intoxicated, incapacitated, or mentally ill, she may not have been in a state to legally consent, and the marriage may be invalidated.
  • Under duress. Coercion, through threats, blackmail, or force, is grounds for annulment.
  • Fraudulent activity. If a spouse lied about an essential fact that would have influenced whether the marriage would have taken place, including past criminal history, sexually transmitted diseases, or certain other issues, the marriage may be determined as fraudulent and, thereby, annulled.

To attain an annulment, a Petition to Invalidate (Annul) Marriage form is needed from the Washington State Court. Since many marriages that are annulment end within the first year, there may be little need for asset division or child custody and support, but for a longer marriage annulment, there are state rules that can help with this process. Your attorney can assist you with the form and any supporting evidence you may need to make your case, as well as offer advice on the next legal steps during and after the annulment process.

Religious Annulments in Washington State

A religious annulment is a choice made by some people when their beliefs or religion disfavor or disallow divorce entirely. This process is not a part of the court system but, rather, a part of the church or institution to which you belong. However, it serves a similar purpose in that a religious annulment of a marriage typically decrees that the marriage was invalid from the beginning. In many cases, this allows you the freedom to re-marry in the future, depending on the policies of your religious institution.

To obtain a religious annulment, it’s common that you first obtain a civil annulment, but you’ll need to check with your church or religious leaders for details on what the requirements are and how to begin the process. In the Catholic Church, it’s common for a tribunal to have the final say, and it’s common for religious counseling to be required as a part of the process.

Legal Help With Marriage Annulments

If you have further questions about annulment or divorce and need help, the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny is here to provide the answers you need. Our experienced family law attorneys understand the difficult time you’re going through, and we will be there to help you every step of the way. Please call us, or use the contact form to send an email and arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue office today.


Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
Molly B. Kenny's Bellevue family law office is conveniently located on Lake Bellevue Drive, making it easily accessible to those in the greater Seattle area. Our divorce and child custody lawyers help men and women get the information, guidance, and compassionate representation they need.
Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny