What is an annulment, and how does it work? Does Massachusetts law allow them?
As in other states, married parties in Massachusetts can file a Complaint for Annulment at the probate and family court. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 207, Section 14, allows either party to commence an action for annulment, and also allows one spouse to disagree and institute an action for affirming the marriage.
However, courts in Massachusetts rarely grant an annulment unless the petitioner can clearly demonstrate that the marriage is invalid. An annulment is not the same thing as a divorce. In a divorce, one or both parties petition the probate and family court to terminate their valid marriage. With an annulment, one or both parties seek to prove that their marriage was never valid (a 'void' marriage) or that their marriage should not now be recognized (a 'voidable' marriage). To clarify, a voidable marriage is legal and binding if the parties choose to remain married. In either case, if the petition is successful, an annulment literally undoes the marriage by treating the parties as though they had never been married. Technically, with a 'void' marriage, the parties do not need to petition the court, because, by definition, they never were married. However, to create a paper record and to ensure that the state no longer considers the marriage valid, it is a good idea to file a Complaint for Annulment.
As long as the party seeking annulment can demonstrate that the reason given in the Complaint for Annulment was, in fact, the reason he left the marriage, the court may declare a marriage void for three reasons: (1) consanguinity, where the parties are too closely related, such as a brother and a sister; (2) affinity, where the parties are too closely related through marriage, such as with a mother-in-law and son; or (3) bigamy, where one party was legally married to another person at the time of the marriage in question. However, if the person seeking the annulment knew of the other marriage at the time of the marriage in question, she must seek a divorce rather than an annulment.
With a voidable marriage, one or both parties must file a Complaint for Annulment that spells out one of several grounds for annulment: (1) lack of mental capacity to consent to marriage, such as if one spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, mentally ill, or a minor (and, therefore, lacking the legal capacity to consent); (2) impotence, where the male lacks the actual ability to perform, not merely the ability to have children (sterility); (3) fraud in the inducement to the marriage contract, such as if one party claimed to be marrying for love but, in fact, was marrying to avoid deportation; and (4) duress, where one party was forced to marry. Unless there is some important reason for a party to seek an annulment, other than in cases of void marriages, the parties are probably better off seeking an ordinary no fault divorce. For more information or to post a question, visit our Massachusetts Divorce Discussion Forum.