Both divorce and annulment terminate a marriage and both actions share the Probate and Family Court forum. A court-granted annulment, however, finds no legal union ever existed. This post examines grounds for annulment under Massachusetts law. We explore whether annulment mediation can be an effective tool for reaching resolution in a less costly, non-confrontational way.

Void and Voidable Marriages

Annulment proceedings dissolve marriages that the Commonwealth deems illegal in the first instance. For example, a party can seek to void a marriage if able to prove the party was unaware the partner is a bigamist, already married to someone else. Divorce, not annulment, is the remedy if the party desiring to end the union knew the spouse was married.

Massachusetts does not recognize marriages between close relatives, by blood or marriage. A void marriage based on incest, consanguinity, and affinity make illicit an individual’s marriage to a parent, grandparent, stepparent, sibling, child, grandchild, niece or nephew.

A void marriage is not a legal marriage by operation of law. Voidable marriage is legal, but a party may seek to invalidate it. A spouse contends a marriage, which the Commonwealth otherwise would allow to continue, should be annulled because a defect at its outset, such as a spouse’s mental incapacity to consent to marriage, renders the union impermissible. A spouse contesting an annulment claim can initiate a Probate Court action seeking to affirm the couple’s marriage. Regardless of the posture of the situation, if there’s an issue as to whether a marriage is valid, annulment mediation may be used to find a creative resolution.

Grounds for annulment of a voidable marriage might involve a spouse being under 18, the minimum age allowable to wed in Massachusetts without parental permission when the marriage occurred. Concealment of material information from a mate, such as a spouse having multiple felony convictions, could prompt the deceived mate to seek an annulment. Likewise, nondisclosure of a spouse’s incurable impotence could lead his partner, who envisions raising a family, to serve a Complaint for Annulment on her spouse.

ANNULMENT SCENARIOS

Consider the following scenarios. Suzanne and Tony have a wedding ceremony in Rhode Island in 2005. Thereafter, they live as husband and wife in Massachusetts for 13 years and have a 10-year-old daughter, Yolanda. They separate in 2018 and Tony moves back to Rhode Island. Suzanne receives a letter from a woman named Zooey seeking support payments, through which Suzanne learns for the first time that Tony allegedly never dissolved a marriage to Zooey whom he left in 2004.

Wanda, a Massachusetts resident, falls in love with Victor, a Brazilian citizen, whom she meets on a Caribbean cruise. The couple marries in Massachusetts in a Catholic church (Wanda is devoutly religious) and lives as husband and wife in the Commonwealth for two years. Wanda petitions the Probate and Family Court to annul the union, claiming Victor fraudulently induced her to marry him for immigration purposes to obtain a green card.

Skilled divorce mediators work collaboratively with experienced family law attorneys and the parties. They are strong communicators able to resolve disputes over the division of marital property and custody and visitation issues and thereby minimize the cost and contentiousness of full-blown divorce litigation.

CAN MEDIATION HELP TONY AND SUZANNE?

Regarding Suzanne and Tony, if Zooey’s claim is unsubstantiated, divorce mediation could proceed. However, if Tony is still legally married to Zooey when he weds Suzanne, he is a bigamist and the marriage is void under Massachusetts law. Because an annulled marriage is seen legally as invalid from its inception, a probate judge cannot divide the marital estate or award alimony.

Moreover, Yolanda, by statute, is considered born out of wedlock to single parents. Tony’s paternity must be re-established for the court to issue child support, custody and visitation orders.

To obtain an annulment, documents filed with the Probate and Family Court include the Complaint for Annulment, a Certificate of Absolute Divorce or Annulment Statistical Information and financial statements. Because Suzanne and Tony are parents, a child support guidelines worksheet and an Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings form also are mandatory. As in divorce actions, service of process must be made to the party against whom annulment is being sought, including an annulment complaint, notice, and domestic relations summons.

WANDA AND VICTOR

In the other scenario, to obtain a nullification of their union, Wanda must prove that Victor deceived her. It is a trickier proposition for Wanda to sustain her claim that she married for love, but Victor married for immigration reasons. This poses a particular challenge for a divorce mediator if Victor seeks to file an affirmation of the marriage with the court.

If Wanda knew, or should have known, about Victor’s overriding interest in obtaining a green card, yet agreed to marry him, her annulment may not be granted. Fraud claims underlying marriage prompting annulment actions more often involve a party withholding from the other an inability to conceive.

RELIGIOUS ANNULMENT

Civil annulment in the Probate Court differs from a religious annulment. Based on her strong Catholic faith, Wanda favors an annulment. The Catholic Church, which is critical of divorce, would allow her to remarry in the Church were she to prove Victor misrepresented to her. A diocesan tribunal likely would issue a religious annulment if the Probate Court grants Wanda an annulment.

Victor and Wanda’s marriage is relatively short-term and childless, so a divorce mediator working with the couple and their attorneys will address whether the certainty of a no-fault divorce that will essentially put the parties back to where they were pre-marriage is preferable to the less-certain outcome of the contentious annulment and affirmation actions.

CONTACT US

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