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What is the Difference Between Annulment, Divorce, and Legal Separation? - Katrina S. Zafiro

What is the Difference Between Annulment, Divorce, and Legal Separation?

The decision to end a marriage is always a difficult and personal decision, and the decision on how to legally end the marriage can be almost as difficult. You know about divorce, and have probably heard about annulment and legal separation, but how do you know which option is best for your circumstances? 

Annulment, divorce, and legal separation are all very different ways to end a marriage, so we will begin by defining what these terms mean.

  • Annulment: In Washington State, we use the term “Declaration of Invalidity”. An order of invalidity erases the marriage from the very beginning on the theory that, due to reasons existing during marriage, no valid marriage existed.  It is as if the marriage never occurred.
  • Divorce: A divorce ends the marriage.  Washington State is a no-fault state. That means you need not prove that one spouse was “at fault.” You only need to declare that the marriage is irretrievably broken and you want out of it.
  • Separation: A legal separation is also achieved by court order. It can give you everything that a divorce order gives you regarding separating assets and debts, parenting and visitation agreements, etc. However, a legal separation does not end the marriage. You are still married and cannot marry another person.

Which option is best for you?

The best option depends on your specific circumstances, beliefs, and what you want to accomplish. The above options are all legal solutions, so certain criteria will need to be met. For example, you may obtain a decree of invalidity for one of these reasons: 

  • the marriage was incestuous, 
  • the marriage resulted from force, fraud, or physical or mental incapacity, 
  • the marriage took place when one or both spouses were below the legal age for marriage, 
  • the marriage took place without proper required parental or court approval,
  • the marriage took place when one or both spouses were under the influence of drugs or alcohol,
  • the marriage took place when one or both spouses were already married or in a registered domestic partnership, OR
  • the marriage took place in another state,  but is void or voidable by the current laws of that state.

If one of the above situations does not apply to your circumstances, then you may not obtain an annulment. The law is often complicated and open to interpretation, so seeking the advice of an experienced attorney will ensure your legal solution is correct.

The State of Washington is a “no-fault” state regarding divorce. This means that the only legal grounds for divorce is the irreparable breakdown of the marriage. Anyone that requests a divorce will be granted one if they were legally married, meet the state residency and jurisdiction requirements, and correctly follow the divorce procedures of the court. 

If you are not eligible for an invalidity case and do not wish to get a divorce in Washington, you may obtain a legal separation. There are many reasons that a separation may be the best choice for your circumstances. Sometimes, there may be religious reasons you may not want to divorce, or, you may not be certain that you want to end your marriage, etc. A legal separation will allow you to divide your assets and debts, and arrange child custody, child support, and visitation schedules. However, a separation agreement does not end the marriage, so neither party may remarry. 

A decree of legal separation may also be converted to a divorce decree by either party filing a motion with the court six months or more after the decree has been entered. Likewise, the Petitioner (person that begins the court case) may also request a Decree of Separation instead of Dissolution. The court will allow the change unless the other party disagrees and files for a Decree of Dissolution or Invalidity instead.

If you are considering ending your marriage, it is always wise to obtain legal advice from an experienced family law attorney like Katrina S. Zafiro. An attorney can help you figure out which options apply to your specific circumstances and plan a strategy for a favorable split of your property. Call today to schedule your consultation appointment.

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Zafiro Law

As an attorney, I am passionate about helping my clients achieve peace of mind in navigating the complex areas of family law and immigration law. Your case will get my full and dedicated attention—whether you are seeking to navigate the complexities of your family law matter or overcome the challenges of your immigration law case.

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