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Washington D.C. Annulments
Annulments in Washington D.C.

Annulments are very rare in the District of Columbia. An annulment happens when the court declares that a marriage does not exist because of bigamy, insanity, fraud, and incapacity or when a spouse is underage.

Annulments are described in the District of Columbia, Code Section 46-401, 403, 405; 16-907, 908; 16-904.


Here are the grounds to annul a marriage in the District of Columbia:

  • The spouses are closely related, which is known as consanguinity, or a blood relationship, or affinity, meaning a close family relationship. This marriage is "void ab initio," which means it was never valid from the start. In the eyes of the law, it was never a marriage; however, it might be wise to obtain an annulment anyway, to clarify that the marriage was void.
  • A spouse is already legally married to someone else at the time of the second marriage. This is bigamy. This kind of marriage is also void ab initio.
  • One spouse was mentally incompetent at the time of the marriage ceremony and didn't have the capacity, or ability, to consent to marriage.
  • One or both spouses consented to the marriage only because of force or fraud.
  • One of the spouses was under the age of 16, and after the marriage, the younger spouse did not voluntarily continue to live with the older spouse.

Depending on the case, different parties may petition for an annulment. For instance, if an underage person marries and is still under the age of 18, the minor's parents or guardian may petition for an annulment. The guardian of a mentally impaired person may also petition for an annulment.

District of Columbia law protects the paternity of children born in an annulled marriage because in annulment cases the law carries a presumption of paternity - a strong legal assumption that a male partner is the biological father of a child. For instance, D.C. law provides that if a child is born within 300 days after a couple stops living together due to an annulment, the husband is presumed to be the father of the child. Similarly, if a child is born after the father and mother attempt to marry, and the marriage is later annulled or found to be void ab initio, then the husband is presumed to be the father. A man trying to overcome a presumption of paternity must prove that he is not the father by clear and convincing evidence. The superior court, which hears annulment cases, has the power to decide custody, visitation, and child support at the same time as it decides the annulment.

Unlike most jurisdictions, which do not award alimony or divide property or debts in an annulment action, the District of Columbia permits the court to divide marital property and debt equitably.

Law in the District of Columbia takes fault into consideration when deciding an annulment. Put simply, the spouse who wronged the other cannot ask for an annulment. Instead, the spouse who is at fault has to file for divorce. For example, if Sam forced Susan to marry by threatening her with violence, then Sam loses the right to ask for an annulment on grounds of force or duress. Sam could still ask for a divorce, but only Susan, the party who was wronged, can ask for an annulment.

The petitioner should discuss statutes of limitations with an attorney to make certain of deadlines.


A person living or married in the District of Columbia can file for annulment, which renders a marriage invalid from the moment it happened, not from the date of the court order. It restores a person to a single person who may marry.

The annulment paperwork includes a complaint for annulment of marriage, which is used by the petitioner, a consent answer, which is used by the respondent if he or she agrees with the specifics of the complaint, a contested answer and counterclaim, which is used by the respondent if he or she disagrees with the complaint and wants to dispute all or part of it, as well as attachments for child custody, child support, alimony, and marital debt and property.

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