Requirements for an Annulment in Massachusetts
By Beverly Bird
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t annul your marriage just because it was fleeting in duration. Each state’s legislative code sets specific guidelines for what constitutes an annullable marriage. In Massachusetts, the length of the marriage is not included in these guidelines. The state is stingy about granting annulments, and spouses often find it easier to file for a no-fault divorce instead. If your marriage qualifies, you would have to prove to the court one of seven grounds for annulment. This is sometimes difficult, whereas you don’t have to prove any ground to get a no-fault divorce.
To receive an annulment in Massachusetts, your marriage must be either void or voidable. A void marriage is one that could not have existed in the first place, because it was against the law from its inception. Massachusetts has three void marriage grounds: you’re closely related by blood to your spouse, such as brother and sister or first cousins; you’re related by marriage to your spouse; or either you or your spouse was already married when you entered into this marriage. The first ground is consanguinity, the second is affinity and the third is bigamy. Annulment grounds for these void marriages are the easiest to prove.
Voidable marriages don’t break the law, so you could conceivably remain married if you wanted to do so. Grounds for a voidable marriage allege that you would not have married your partner if you had been aware of certain facts. The four voidable marriage grounds include fraud, duress, impotency or mental incapacity. Fraud means that your spouse concealed some important issue from you. A duress ground means he somehow threatened or coerced you into marrying him. Impotency means he can’t perform sexually, but you didn’t know this until after you married him. You also have a ground for annulment if either you or your spouse was not capable of understanding what you were doing when you married. This does not necessarily have to be because one of you suffers from a mental disorder. One of you could have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time the wedding took place.
Massachusetts law allows a spouse to fight an annulment. If you don’t want your marriage annulled and your partner has filed a petition for annulment on one of the voidable grounds, you can answer that petition with a request to affirm the marriage. This usually makes it very difficult for the court to grant the annulment and it generally forces your spouse to file for a no-fault divorce instead. The court won’t grant an annulment on a bigamy ground if an objecting spouse can prove that the other spouse was aware of the previous marriage.
Divorce ends your marriage. If a Massachusetts court grants you an annulment instead, it means your marriage never legally happened. However, if you conceived any children together, in most cases the children are legally legitimate. An exception exists if your marriage was void because of consanguinity or affinity.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.