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District of Columbia Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

Marriage is a special occasion and a significant undertaking. It's also a legal contract. State law permits and prohibits certain marriages and provides a legal process for entering into a valid marriage. Marriage entitles spouses to make medical decisions and legal decisions for one another and affects tax law, the laws of succession, property laws, and countless other areas of law that people interact with each day.

All states and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting some marriages. There are also legal avenues for seeking an annulment, or a declaration that a marriage was illegal from the time it was entered into. Here's a quick summary of the laws governing annulment and prohibited marriages in our nation's capital.

D.C. Prohibited Marriage and Annulment Laws: At a Glance

The laws for prohibited marriage and annulment in the District of Columbia are listed in the table below.

Grounds for Annulment Marriage contracts may be annulled in one of the five following cases: (1) where the marriage was contracted while either of the parties had a former living spouse unless the former marriage had been lawfully dissolved; (2) where the marriage was contracted during the insanity of either party (unless there has been voluntary cohabitation after the discovery of the insanity); (3) where the marriage was procured by fraud or coercion; (4) where either party was matrimonially incapacitated at the time of the marriage without the knowledge of the other and has continued to be incapacitated; or (5) where either party had not attained the legal age of consent to contact to the marriage. (D.C. Code § 16-904)
Persons Allowed to Institute Annulment Proceedings An annulment may be instituted in the case of an infant under the age of consent by the infant, through a next friend, or by the parent or guardian of the infant, and in the case of a person with a mental illness, by next friend. (D.C. Code § 46-404)
Legitimacy of Children A child is the legitimate child of any parent under which a parent-child relationship is established and is the legitimate relative of its parents' blood or adoption. (D.C. Code § 16-908)
Prohibited Marriages
  • Bigamy: If a person with a spouse marries or enters a domestic partnership with someone other than their spouse, they are guilty of bigamy. (D.C. Code § 22-501)
  • Void Ab Initio Marriages: The following marriages are void ab initio, without being so decreed: (1) the marriage of a person with a person's grandparent, grandparent's spouse, spouse's grandparent, parent's sibling, parent, step-parent, spouse's parent, child, spouse's child, sibling, child's child, child's child's spouse, spouse's child, or sibling's child or (2) the marriage of any persons either of who has been previously married and whose previous marriage has not been terminated by death or a decree of divorce (D.C. Code § 46-401.01)
  • Illegal Marriages: The following marriages are void from the time when their nullity is declared by decree: the marriage of a person adjusted to be, or to have been at the time the marriage was performed, unable by reason of mental incapacity to give valid consent to marriage; any marriage the consent to which of either party has been procured by force or fraud; or when either of the parties is under the age of consent, which is 16 years of age. (D.C. Code § 46-403)
  • Illegal Marriages in Another State: If any marriage declared illegal in D.C. is entered in another jurisdiction, the marriage shall be deemed illegal and may be decreed to be void in D.C. in the same manner as if it had been celebrated in the district. (D.C. Code § 46-405)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Prohibited Marriages in D.C.

Even prior to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodgeswhich established that the denial of marriage to same-sex couples was an impermissible violation of the constitutional right of equal protection, the District permitted marriage between two persons regardless of gender. Most prohibited marriages in the District arise from common law bars. A marriage between two people when one person is still married (bigamy) is illegal. Another source of illegal marriages is those where consent is lacking or unlawfully obtained. Marriages can be voided when consent occurred during a party's insanity, was obtained by force or fraud, or when one party was below D.C.'s age of legal consent (which is 16 years old).

Incestuous marriages and marriages between in-laws are illegal in D.C. A person cannot marry their grandparents, parents or their parents' siblings, their children or their siblings' children, or their grandchildren. This also applies to spouses of grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren. Prohibitions on marrying a step-parent exist as well.

Annulments in D.C.

An annulment is a legal process for dissolving an illegal marriage. This differs from divorce — an annulment terminates a marriage from the beginning or from the date of annulment. There are no legal separation or divorce proceedings involved. Under D.C. law, incestuous marriages and bigamous marriages are void from the beginning. An annulment can also be granted when legal consent was lacking. Finally, a marriage can be annulled if one person is impotent and this was unknown before the marriage was entered into.

Related Resources: Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws

Next Steps: Speak to a Family Law Attorney

If you are considering your options for an annulment, it is best to speak with a local family law attorney. An experienced attorney can view the specific facts of your case and give you legal advice using the laws of your jurisdiction. Get started by getting a consultation from a local family law attorney today.

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