Many people imagine that a marriage of short duration, say a year or less, is automatically eligible for an annulment. However, annulments are granted in only very specific circumstances, circumstances that have no relation to the length of the marriage.
A marriage which a Massachusetts family court will annul is one that is either void or voidable. Below, we will define these terms and the implications they have for persons seeking to annul their marriage.
When Is A Marriage Considered Void
A void marriage is one which never existed due to circumstances at the time of the marriage or the relationship between the putative spouses.
The reasons a marriage is void are as follows:
- Bigamy: Bigamy is the condition of purporting to be married to two or more persons at a time. “Bigamy” is grounds for an annulment, as listed on the annulment form, but with a major caveat: the person who was free to marry (the unmarried partner) must have been unaware that the bigamous partner was, in fact, already legally married. If the free-to-marry partner was fully aware that the other partner was already married, the marriage is no longer eligible for an annulment. They must request a divorce instead.
- Incest, Consanguinity, and Affinity: A marriage is void if the spouses are too closely related by blood or marriage. Consanguinity is the condition of shared blood or, as we would say from our modern perspective, shared genetic material. A marriage between first or second cousins is consanguineous, but both are legal and valid in Massachusetts. Affinity is the creation of a relationship by marriage between a person and their spouse’s relatives.
Massachusetts law, to summarize, prohibits marriages between:
i. Ancestors and descendants, biological or step-relation—(step)grandparents to (step)grandchildren, (step)parents to (step)children,
ii. Blood siblings
iii. A person and his/her blood siblings’ children—aunt/uncle to niece/nephew
When Is A Marriage Voidable A voidable marriage is one which, by Commonwealth law, never existed, but one or both parties can ask the courts to affirm they are married. A marriage is voidable for the following reasons:
- Lack of mental capacity: at the time of the marriage, one or both parties was unable to consent because of intoxication, mental illness, or profound intellectual disability.
- Minority: If one or both parties was under 18 and married without consent of minors and the courts.
- Inability to have intercourse: Not that the marriage remains unconsummated, but that a physical impediment makes intercourse impossible under any circumstances
- Fraud: That one partner entered the marriage for ulterior motives (like immigration status) or withholding important information (such as inability to have children), of which the other partner was unaware.
Annulment or Divorce As discussed above, the reasons a marriage can be annulled in Massachusetts are limited, and not at all tied to how long, or not, a marriage has lasted. If you believe your marriage is null and void, or you otherwise have questions about ending your marriage through divorce, contact our office to speak with an experienced family law attorney.