Where a divorce terminates a marriage, an annulment declares that no marriage ever existed. Under the Massachusetts General Law c. 207, §14 and depending on whether the marriage is considered void or voidable, either party can file a Complaint for Annulment. However, annulments are not often granted by the courts and should only be sought when the facts clearly show that the marriage is, in fact, invalid.
Void vs. Voidable Marriages
- Void Marriages:
A void marriage is a marriage that was invalid from its very beginning. Such marriages are unlawful and require no formality to terminate. However, it is recommended that a void marriage be formally terminated by the court. It is always better to be safe, than sorry! A marriage can be declared void for the following three reasons:
- Consanguinity. The parties are too closely related by blood. (e.g. brother/sister);
- Affinity. The parties are too closely related through marriage. (e.g. mother-in-law/son); or
- Bigamy. One party was married to someone else at the time he or she married the second party. However, if the party now seeking an annulment knew at the time of the marriage about the prior marriage, they cannot seek an annulment.
Important Note: The reason given for claiming that the marriage was void must be the actual reason you left your spouse.
- Voidable Marriages:
A voidable marriage is a legal marriage that one (or both) spouse(s) may petition the court to cancel. One party must file a “Complaint for Annulment” in the appropriate Probate and Family Court in order to invalidate the marriage. Voidable marriages occur when:
- One spouse lacked the mental capacity to marry. This includes cases where one spouse was not of legal age to be married and no parental or judicial consent for the marriage was sought. In Massachusetts, the legal age for marriage is 18 years old;
- One spouse was impotent. This means the spouse lacks the ability to sexually perform and not merely the inability to conceive children;
- There is fraud in the marriage contract. This includes if one party is marrying for love and the other is marrying for personal benefit such as avoiding deportation; or
- One party entered into the marriage under duress. This means that one party only entered the marriage because of pressure or threat.
If you are considering filing for a divorce or an annulment, contact an experienced family law attorney who may assist you in determining the best route for you.
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