What is a Marriage in Washington State?

By Spokane family lawyer, Hector Quiroga.

A marriage is a contract between the spouses, as well as an institution/status. Courts in Washington, and specifically in Spokane, have held that marriage is a civil contract and an “institution.” Courts have also held that you must be married to seek a divorce (now legally referred to as “dissolution”). However, because a marriage is a legal contract between two parties, a party can only get divorced by following the requirements set out by Washington state and follow the local county court rules (in our case, Spokane County Superior Court requirements).

Under the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act § 201:

A marriage is a:

•     Personal relationship
•     Between two people (note: Referendum 74 was approved by popular vote redefining a marriage between two people, allowing for same-sex marriages. The new definition is validity after December 6, 2012. Since then, the Supreme Court has authorized same-sex marriage in the entire United States).
•     Arising out of a civil contract
•     To which the consent of the parties is essential.

A marriage, licensed, solemnized, and registered, as provided in this act is valid in this state. We follow the definition provided by the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (UDMA). Spokane family lawyer and attorneys report that this has a deeper legal meaning: A marriage may be contracted, maintained, invalidated, or dissolved, but only as provided by law.

Although Washington law provides that a marriage is a contract, it is important to note that a there are regulations and prohibitions to some of the agreements the parties may enter into voluntarily. For example, in the Matter of Graham, the parties made a written contract where the wife was to dominate domestic affairs.

The husband was to follow the wife, and the wife was to give some consideration (payment) to the husband. The parties divorced and the husband sued on the contract seeking payments from the wife.

The court held that the contract was not enforceable and that it was against public policy because:

(1)        It attempts to change the essential obligations of the marriage contract
(2)        As defined by the law.

Essentials of Marriage (what Washington State expects and what the parties may not contract away):

A married person has a right to be with his/her spouse.

Married couples live together and have a right to procreate. The reason we have marriage is procreation (according to our state).

Prohibitions on Marriages

Under  UMDA § 207 (a) Prohibited Marriages (bigamy and kinship). The following marriages are prohibited:

(1)        A marriage entered into before the dissolution of an earlier marriage.

•     Every state has this.  Not just Washington state.
•     Marriage lets you know who is responsible for a child.

(2)        Ancestor/descendent, brother/sister, half/whole/adoption;

•     Comment: Stop romantic attachment within the home.
•     Most states have this.

(3)        Uncle/niece, aunt/nephew, half or whole,

•     Exception: aboriginal cultures
•     RATIONALE: Identity of family unit & health (physical and emotional).

UMDA § 208: Declaration of invalidity – what must be filed in annulment petition.

(a)        A court shall enter a decree of invalidity if: (capacity to contract in 1 and 3, capacity to consummate in 2, and state prohibitions.

(1)        A party lacked capacity to consent;

•     Drugs, alcohol, duress.

(2)        A party lacked physical capacity to consummate, and the other party did not know at the time of the marriage;

(3)        AGE: Under 16 and no parent consent or judicial consent or 16-17 and no parental or judicial consent (bypass parental consent)

For more information about marriage and/or divorce, please contact Spokane family lawyer, Hector Quiroga.

Please see the links below for more information:

Overview of This Area of Law
What is a Marriage? (legally speaking)
Illegal Marriages in Washington (and Spokane)
Prenuptial Agreements in Washington
Divorce: Filing, Deadlines, and Other Issues
Divorce: Temporary Orders and Motions
Parenting Plans in Spokane County
Child support in Spokane County
Spousal Support
Division of Assets in a Divorce
Emergency Orders
Third Party Actions in Spokane County