Boston Annulment Attorney
VOID AND VOIDABLE MARRIAGES IN MASSACHUSETTS – ANNULMENT CLAIMS
Void marriages are those that are automatically void (like bigamous marriages or marriages between siblings).
Voidable marriages are those which are not automatically void, but where a person can petition the court to make a determination that the marriage never existed. When a person is seeking a judgment that the marriage was void or voidable from the outset, this is called a nullity or annulment case.
How are Annulment Cases Different than Divorce Cases?
There are several very important differences between annulment and divorce cases. First, when the court issues a judgment nullifying a marriage it means that the marriage never existed. When the court issues a judgment of divorce, the parties were still married but their status returns to that of a single person.
Second, annulment cases require litigation whereas divorce cases can be agreed upon. Parties cannot just agree to a judgment nullifying their marriage. A court has to make a determination that an annulment is warranted and permitted under the law.
Third, the parties’ rights and responsibilities are greatly impacted depending on whether the marriage is nullified or if a judgment of divorce is made. If the annulment is granted, the marriage never existed and therefore no “marital property” could be acquired by the parties. There may also be religious, immigration or other issues that arise as well.
What are the marriages that are automatically void?
Marriages that are automatically void include:
- Where the marital partners are related to each other; or
- Where one party is already married to another person at the time they married the “new” spouse (i.e. polygamous marriage).
One exception to the polygamous marriage is where a person has a good faith belief that his or her first spouse was dead.
What are the marriages that are voidable?
The grounds in which a person may petition the court to request the court void the marriage include the following:
- Where a party lacks mental capacity to enter into a valid marital relationship;
- Where the marriage is induced by fraud where the fraud goes to the essence of the marriage contract;
- Where one or both spouses are underage; and
- Where a spouse was impotent at the time of marriage.
A voidable marriage is valid until a court determines it is not valid, either by nullifying the marriage or by entering a declaratory judgment.
Do I qualify for an Annulment in Massachusetts?
The court does not make it easy to annul a marriage. The United States Supreme Court has stressed the significance of marriage in the following words:
Marriage is a coming together for better or worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions. (Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 1682, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965).
Because the solemnization of marriages are so important, all courts in the United States have recognized that a recorded marriage is presumptively valid.
The reluctance of the Massachusetts courts to nullify marriages is clearly evidenced in our state’s case law. For example, the pre-marital concealment of assets or debts and the existence of undisclosed health issues by a party have been held insufficient to void a marriage. Even in cases where actual fraud exists, the courts have been reluctant to allow the annulment unless the fraud was material and related to the “essence of the marital relationship”. We discuss the case law that did award a nullity below.
The “burden of proof” to acquire a nullity judgment is by the “preponderance” standard, which means that it is more likely than not that the marriage is voidable. However, in these cases substantial evidence is required. Remember, void marriages do not have to be proven so there is no standard of proof required, technically.
Notably, consummation of a marriage is not required to validate the marriage. If you didn’t have sexual relations with your spouse following marriage it is likely not grounds for the annulment; however, if one party was impotent and unable to perform sexually that might be grounds to void the marriage.
Annulments for marriages where one party has an unconcealed health issue
As mentioned, one spouse’s failure to disclose health issues is generally not grounds for an annulment. However, there are cases that have allowed a nullity on this basis.
For example, in one case, a spouse did not disclose that they had a serious communicable (transferrable) disease and the court allowed the annulment. In cases where one spouse lies or misrepresents a particular health condition, such as epilepsy, the court has not allowed the annulment.
Annulments based on one party’s mental incompetence
The law permits the family courts to grant a nullity judgment voiding a marriage in cases where one (or both) party is mentally incompetent. This means that when a person lacks the ability to understand the nature of the marital contract, he or she cannot be bound by that agreement. The focus of these cases turns on whether the person has a sufficient understanding of what is happening and is therefore unable to consent.
The party seeking to nullify a marriage on this basis has a heavy burden of proof and must show substantial evidence of incompetence. Basically, one would have to prove that a party was insane at the time of marriage.
Annulments based on impotency
The courts may grant annulments when a person has the inability to copulate. This does not only apply to men. For an “impotency” argument, the condition affecting a party cannot be temporary.
Annulments based on fraud that relates to the essence of marriage
The most common method family law litigants seek to nullify their marriage is based on fraud, which means that one person lied to induce another person to marry them. Case law clearly establishes that the fraud must directly relate to the “essence of marriage”. Here are some types of cases where fraud might work to nullify a marriage:
- Where a woman lies to a man about the fact that he is the father of her unborn child and they marry for that reason.
- Likewise, where a man lies about the fact that he impregnated another woman.
- Where a party lied about their incurable venereal disease.
- Where a party enticed another to marry them so they could obtain immigration status.
- When a party intends not to cohabitate following marriage, including the intention not to have sexual relations and bear children.
What if a spouse lied about whether they were previously married and divorced? The courts have held that is not sufficient for an annulment.
Annulments and duress
Another way in which the court can nullify a marriage is when a person is forced to marry another person. This is called duress. This does not mean a party felt pressure to marry. It means that the person was actually threatened with harm if they did not marry.
Do I have to file the Annulment Complaint if my marriage is void?
Technically, marriages that are void never existed and therefore no action is needed to “void” the marriage that is already void. However, in practice, it is a good idea to have the family court issue a judgment voiding the marriage so there is no question about validity. People that marry each other receive a marriage certificate, so it is a good idea to ensure that there is no question about the fact that the marriage doesn’t exist and never legally existed.
What happens with children after an annulment is granted?
When children are born during a marriage and that marriage is subsequently nullified by a probate and family court judge, the law wants to “legitimize” the child whenever possible. For most nullity actions, children born of the parents whose marriage was annulled will still be treated like his or her parents divorced. In some cases, the child is simply treated as though he or she was born to parents out of wedlock. Even if the parties’ marriage is voided, it does not mean that the father is “out of the picture” by any stretch of the imagination.
What if my Void Marriage Occurred in Another State or Country?
If a marriage was void at the time of “union” between two people that married in another state or country under that jurisdiction’s laws, then it will also be void in Massachusetts. The theory behind this rule is called “Full Faith and Credit”, which means that Massachusetts must generally acknowledge the laws of other jurisdictions.
Our Boston annulment attorneys are available to answer your questions about voidable marriages, annulment actions, and divorce cases. Please feel free to call us or send us an email.
Our Boston family law firm serves all courts in Boston as well as Bristol County, including the New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton courthouses. The cities in Bristol County that we serve include Fairhaven and Attleboro. We also serve all courts in Plymouth County, including the cities of Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester.