When a marriage is annulment, the court declares that said marriage never existed. It is not the same as a divorce, which ends a valid marriage. In an annulment, it is as if the marriage never happened. An annulment is not easier or faster to get than a divorce; in fact, it is oftentimes more difficult to show a valid cause for an annulment than to furnish sufficient evidence to end a marriage based on irretrievable breakdown. In Massachusetts, there are very few reasons that you can get an annulment, and the court requires clear proof of the reason why the annulment of the marriage is warranted. The law governing annulment is G. L. c. 207, § 14.

Once cannot get an annulment just because a marriage was very short. To get an annulment, clear evidence must be shown to prove that your marriage is either void or voidable. If a person was not legally allowed to marry in the first place and the state will never approve such a marriage, it is called a void marriage. If an individual was not legally permitted to marry because of a particular problem, but the state will allow that person to remain married if he or she so choses, such marriage is called voidable.

Void Marriages

A marriage is void if:

  • One of the spouses was married to someone else at the time when the marriage in question was entered into. On the annulment complaint form, this is called “bigamy.” But if the person asking for the annulment knew his or her spouse was already married before their marriage, then they must request a divorce and not an annulment as there was no fraud perpetrated on them.
  • Marriage was between two persons who are closely related between each other. On the annulment form, this is called “Incest, Consanguinity and Affinity.” In Massachusetts, one may not marry grandparents, step-grandparents, parents, stepparents, siblings, nieces, nephews, children, or grandchildren. A person also cannot marry the spouse’s parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren. There is an exception in that a man may marry his son’s wife; however, a woman is not allowed to marry her daughter’s husband, but she may marry her husband’s father.

Voidable Marriages

A marriage is voidable if:

One of the spouses did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage at the time. For example, a spouse may have been drunk or mentally ill.

One of the spouses is not physically capable of sexual intercourse.

One of the spouses was not old enough to get married. In Massachusetts, a person must be 18 years old to get married, unless he or she obtains the permission of the parents and the court.

There was fraud involved in getting married. The Massachusetts courts are very strict and will only annul a marriage for a fraud that goes to the heart of the marriage itself. Historically, annulments for fraud were focused on sexual relations and the ability to have children.  Courts have also been willing to find fraud where one person had purely ulterior motives for entering into the marriage. For example, one person may have thought they were marrying for love, but the other person was only marrying them for immigration reasons. Many deceptive or fraudulent acts, however, will not be grounds for an annulment. Additionally, if one of the spouses knew or should have known of the fraudulent conduct of the other, an annulment will not be granted.

The process of Annulment
In filing an annulment, a document called “Petition for Annulment” must be filed with the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. Ultimately, the Court may grant or deny an annulment after a hearing.

Deciding whether to seek an annulment or a divorce is a difficult question. When making the choice, individuals should remember that certain qualifications must be met in order to obtain an annulment and that an annulment has different legal consequences than the divorce – if annulment is granted, it means the marriage never existed; a divorce, on the other hand, is a termination of a valid marriage.

It should also be noted that a legal annulment is different from a religious annulment. Parties seeking a religious annulment are best to consult a church or church leader.

Resources for Annulment

Massachusetts Court System

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