Marriage is a special occasion and 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.
Prohibited Marriages in D.C.
Even prior to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which 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 are 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 (sixteen).
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 the 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.
||§ 46-401, 401.01, 403, 404, 405; § 16-903, 904, 908.
|Grounds for Annulment
||Marriages can be annulled when: one party lacked the ability to consent due to mental insanity; consent was obtained by force or fraud; matrimonial incapacity existed at the time and was unknown to the other party; a party was under the age of legal consent; one party was previously married and that prior marriage was not dissolved by death or divorce.
|Time Limits for Obtaining an Annulment
|Legitimacy of Children
||Children born in or out of wedlock are legitimate children of the father and mother and their blood and adopted relatives.
||Marriage to one whose previous marriage has not been terminated by death or divorce (bigamy); marriage between an ancestor and descendent, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, brother and sister, and corresponding in-law relationships; marriages by D.C. residents made in foreign jurisdictions that are illegal under D.C. law.
Related Resources: Annulment and Prohibited Marriage Laws
You can find more information on marriage laws and annulments here at FindLaw. For specific information about a particular case, speaking with a local family law attorney is your best option.