Divorce, Legal Separation, or Invalidity – Options for Ending a Marriage

In Washington State, there are three options for ending a marriage through the courts: a decree of dissolution, a decree of legal separation, or a decree of invalidity. All three of these court actions have the ability to award property and assets, order payment of debts and liabilities, order “custody” and “visitation” of any children, require payment of child support or spousal maintenance, and grant other additional relief as provided by law. The summaries below provide a brief outline of each of the three options.

Divorce

The legal process for ending a marriage in Washington State results in the issuance of a court order called a decree of dissolution not a decree of divorce. Washington State is known as a “no fault” divorce state which means one of the parties must merely state that the “marriage is irretrievably broken.” An agreed divorce can be entered no earlier than 91 days from the date of filing with the court and service of process on the other party. An agreed divorce does not mean merely that both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. It requires that the parties agree on every element of the divorce including dividing assets, paying debts, the terms of the parenting plan, the amount of child support or spousal maintenance, and every other issue between the parties. If a matter is not agreed and a trial is required, it takes approximately one year in Pierce County, Washington to resolve a case via trial.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a distinct legal status where the marriage is not ended, but all assets, debts, child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, and other matters between the parties are resolved through the issuance of a decree of legal separation. A party may choose to obtain a legal separation for religious, moral, economic, or other reasons. A legal separation has no waiting period if all issues are agreed. Under Washington State law, it can be finalized the same day as filed if all paperwork is in order. A party, with proper notice to other side, can convert the legal separation into a dissolution of marriage as early as six months from the date the legal separation was finalized with the court. At the time of conversion, there is no further division of property or debts. The parenting plan and order of child support are also not altered.

Annulment

The term for annulling a marriage is called a decree of invalidity in Washington State. Unlike a divorce or legal separation, there are specific grounds which must be proved to the court to qualify for an “annulment.” These are set forth in RCW 26.09.040. These include that either or both parties were under the age of consent, a party was still married to someone else, a party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage due to intoxication, incapacitating substances, or mental instability, a party had to marry due to force or duress, or there was fraud in the essentials of the marriage. Even if one of the factors can be proved, the parties must not have voluntarily cohabitated after attaining the age of consent, capacity to consent, cessation of the force or duress, or discovery of the fraud. Decrees of invalidity are rarely granted by the court.


The family law attorneys of Hillary A. Holmes, Daniel W. Smith, and Jeremy Swann of Campbell, Dille, Barnett, & Smith PLLC represent parties throughout the area (including Puyallup, Sumner, Bonney Lake, and Orting) in all aspects of family law matters. If you would like legal guidance or representation on family law matters, feel free to call (253) 848-3513.