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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in Washington

Divorce, or Dissolution of Marriage, is the process by which parties put a legal end to a marriage union. Annulment is also a process through which parties end a marriage. In both cases, a judge must enter a decree for the process to come to a legal conclusion. In Washington, annulment is known as Declaration Concerning Validity. This is because while divorce dissolves a legal marriage union, annulment determines the validity of the marriage. When a judge delivers an annulment decree, the judge declares the marriage void, and in the eyes of the law, the marriage never existed. In Washington, the Superior Court hears divorce and annulment cases.

What is a Washington Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree in Washington is the court’s final divorce order. A judge grants divorce through the decree. The divorce decree contains information about the divorced parties and lays out each party’s responsibility as agreed by both parties and ratified by the court. A Washington divorce decree contains information like the docket number, names of the divorced parties, date and venue of the divorce, and the name of the judge that heard the case or granted the divorce order. Washington divorce decrees also contain information about divorce-related issues such as the divorced parties’ financial information, property division, asset distribution, alimony, and child support plans.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in Washington?

Annulment is the process through which the court determines the validity of a marriage. In Washington, annulment is known as Declaration Concerning Validity. When the court annuls a marriage, the court declares the marriage invalid. Void marriages, voidable marriages, and prohibited marriages are eligible for annulment in Washington. Annulment records, or Invalidity order, are publicly accessible, and interested persons may request access to the records at the courthouse where the court granted the order or through the Vital Records division of the Washington State Department of Health.

Annulment vs Divorce in Washington

In Washington, annulment, also known as the Declaration of Validity, is the process where the court declares a marriage invalid. Void, prohibited, and voidable marriages are eligible for annulment in Washington. The following are legal grounds for annulment in the state:

  • A marriage involving a person under 17 years
  • Bigamy
  • Incest
  • Fraud
  • Coercion or duress
  • Incapacity due to mental unfitness or a lack of understanding

A party in a void, voidable, or prohibited marriage, or the party’s legal guardian may ask the court for annulment by filing a Petition to Invalidate Marriage. The petitioner must also file other paperwork that the court requires, including a summons. The petitioner must ensure that the respondent is served with the summons through the Sheriff’s office, a professional process server, or personal delivery. The respondent must acknowledge receipt, after which the court will set a hearing date. The burden of proof lies with the petitioner; that means the petitioner must prove that grounds for annulment exist. After careful examination, if the court determines that there are grounds for annulment, the judge will issue an Invalid Marriage Order or annulment decree.

Divorce is the dissolution or termination of a legal/valid marriage. In Washington, divorce is either contested or uncontested. A contested divorce is one where parties in a divorce case do not agree on divorce terms and responsibilities. In some cases, a party in a contested divorce may not agree to the divorce. An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the parties in the case agree. Washington is a no-fault divorce state. Parties may only file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Washington does not have a residency requirement for dissolution; the parties only need to reside in Washington at the time of filing. Interested parties may file for divorce by filing a Petition for Divorce and other required paperwork with the Superior Court’s Clerk in the county where either party resides. Depending on whether parties agree about divorce terms and responsibilities, the case may go to trial. Divorce is final when a judge signs a divorce decree.

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In Washington?

Annulment and divorce can be time-consuming and financially intensive processes. One is not necessarily cheaper than the other. The court charges filing fees for both divorce and annulment. Likewise, both processes may involve an attorney. Divorce and annulment can also both involve issues like custody and child support plans.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in Washington?

Couples who agree on divorce terms such as alimony, child support, property division, visitation rights, and other divorce-related issues may file for an uncontested or simplified divorce. Typically, an uncontested divorce is less expensive and takes less time than a contested divorce; because parties agree about divorce-related issues, the parties do not need to go to trial.

Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in Washington

Interested parties may find Uncontested Divorce Forms online on the Washington Courts website. Alternatively, interested parties may obtain divorce forms from the Court Clerk at the Superior Court in the county where either party resides. Parties in an uncontested divorce or the parties’ attorneys may present an agreement signed by both parties to a judge. After 90 days, the judge will review the case and sign the dissolution.

Divorce records are available for inspection and copying at the courthouse; interested parties may request divorce records by submitting written requests to the court clerk. Alternatively, interested parties may submit written requests to the Vital Records Division of the Washington Department of Health.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in Washington?

To obtain copies of personal divorce decrees in Washington, interested parties may submit requests by mail or in person to the Court Clerk at the Superior Court in the county where a judge granted the divorce. Requesting parties may need to provide government-issued photo identification to access divorce decrees. Requesting parties may also need to provide record-identifying information such as the date of the divorce, the names of the divorced parties, and the location or venue of the divorce.

Interested parties may also request certified copies of divorce certificates by mail from the Vital Records Division using:

Center for Health Statistics
Department of Health
PO Box 9709
Olympia, WA 98507

Alternatively, interested parties may submit requests in person at:

Washington State Department of Health
Center for Health Statistics
Town Center 1
101 Israel Road SE
Tumwater, WA 98501

The Vital Records Division charges $20 to produce certified copies of divorce records.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I get a Washington Divorce Decree Online?

Parties interested in Washington Divorce decrees must request directly from the Court Clerk at the courthouse where the judge granted the divorce. However, interested parties may obtain certified copies of divorce certificates online through government-approved third-party channels.

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