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Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation

William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law  Sept. 30, 2022

Signing divorce papersDivorce, annulment, and legal separation are among the possible options to dissolve or end your marriage legally in Washington State. A divorce is a formal way to dissolve a marital union, while an annulment declares the marriage null and void, just like it never happened.  

Conversely, legal separation allows the spouses to formalize their separation while staying legally married. A well-informed Washington State family law attorney can educate you about the various options to dissolve your marital relationship and help you make informed decisions.  

William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, enjoys providing outstanding legal services and knowledgeable advice to individuals and families in family law-related matters, including divorce, legal separation, and annulments. Attorney William E. Morgan can inform you about the benefits, drawbacks, and requirements of each marriage dissolution option and help you decide the right one for your relationship.  

The firm proudly serves clients across Grays Harbor County, Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Raymond, and Pacific County, Washington. 

Divorce in Washington State 

Divorce is the legal process of dissolving a marriage or marital relationship. Washington is a "no-fault" divorce state. To get a divorce in Washington State, you only need to prove an "irretrievable breakdown" – you and your spouse can no longer get along. Also, you or your estranged partner must be a resident of Washington State to get a divorce in the state. 

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce 

Additionally, divorce in Washington State may either be contested or uncontested. 

Uncontested Divorce: In an uncontested divorce, the couples mutually agree on the important divorce settlement terms – including alimony, asset division, child custody, child support, and parenting time. All agreed-upon terms will be carefully documented and filed with the Washington court for official approval. 

Contested Divorce: Conversely, in a contested divorce, the spouses are unable to agree on one or more key divorce terms. The couples will turn to the family court to help resolve pending divorce and relationship issues through a hearing. After the hearing, the judge will issue a divorce order finalizing the divorce case. 

Annulment in Washington State 

However, Washington State doesn't enter an annulment. Rather, couples who would like to end their marriage can seek a Declaration of Invalidity. As the name implies, a declaration of invalidity means that the marriage was never valid right from the onset. 

Grounds for a Declaration of Invalidity in Washington 

Here are the legal grounds (reasons) to seek a declaration of invalidity in Washington State: 

  • Underage – The spouse was too young to get married in Washington State (at least 17 years). 

  • Incompetence – The spouse was mentally incapable of consenting to the marriage – due to insanity, incapacitation, or intoxication. 

  • Force – One spouse was physically forced or threatened into getting married. 

  • Duress – One spouse was coerced or forced into getting married. 

  • Bigamy – One spouse is currently married to a living person – wife or husband. 

  • Fraud – One spouse defrauded their partner regarding a vital necessity to the marriage. 

  • Incest – The spouses are related, closer than first cousins. 

Legal Separation in Washington State 

Furthermore, legal separation allows couples to formalize their separation – live separately and apart – while staying legally married. In Washington State, either spouse can file a request for legal separation with the local court. The procedures for legal separation are also similar to divorce. However, unlike a divorce, seeking a court order for legal separation won't formally end the marital relationship. 

Furthermore, couples seeking legal separation must work together to establish a mutually acceptable separation agreement or contract. This will include details about the parenting plan, alimony, child support, asset division, and each spouse's financial responsibility. If you're considering the possibility of reconciliation with your partner later, legal separation might be beneficial for you. 

The Difference Between

Divorce, Legal Separation, & Annulment 

Here are some differences between a divorce, legal separation, and declaration of invalidity (annulment): 

What Happens to the Marriage? 

A divorce dissolves a valid marriage lawfully, while legal separation allows the couples to live separately and apart while staying legally married. Conversely, a declaration of invalidity terminates an invalid marriage like it never occurred. 

Ground for Marital Dissolution 

In Washington State, both divorce and legal separation have the same ground for martial dissolution. You only have to state irretrievable breakdown as the reason for marriage dissolution. In contrast, in a declaration of invalidity, you must state the specific ground that makes your marriage invalid. 

Residency Requirements 

Getting a divorce or legal separation in Washington State requires either spouse to be a resident of the state at the time of filing the petition. Conversely, a declaration of invalidity has no residency requirements. 

Marital Status 

A divorce or declaration of invalidity restores the spouses to their previous legal status as single persons. Hence, you are legally permitted to call yourself "single." Conversely, in a legal separation, you will retain your marital status. 

Can You Remarry? 

Finally, you are eligible to remarry upon getting a divorce or declaration of invalidity. In contrast, if you seek a court order for legal separation, you're neither divorced nor married. Hence, you may not be eligible to remarry. 

A loyal family law attorney can inform you about each marital dissolution option, help determine the ideal choice for your relationship, and guide you through every legal step involved. 

How William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, Can Help  

Whether you are seeking a divorce, annulment, or legal separation, dissolving your marriage in Washington State generally involves a lot of complex procedures and may present various challenges. Hence, you need to seek proper guidance from an accomplished family law attorney to know the emotional ramifications and legal impact of each marital dissolution option on you and your partner.  

Attorney William E. Morgan values guiding individuals and families through the challenges involved in marital dissolutions. He has the tools to explore your potential marital dissolution options and help determine the best way to end your marital relationship. Also, Attorney William E. Morgan will work intelligently with all parties involved to establish a fair settlement agreement and resolve any pending marital or relationship issues peacefully and quickly.  

If you are considering filing for divorce, legal separation, or annulment, contact William E. Morgan, Attorney at Law, today to arrange a straightforward case assessment. Attorney William E. Morgan can help decide what is best for you and your partner and help make your transition as seamless as possible. The firm proudly serves clients across Grays Harbor County, Hoquiam, Aberdeen, Montesano, Raymond, and Pacific County, Washington.