The Basics of Annulment in Massachusetts

Learn about the grounds for an annulment and how to get one in Massachusetts.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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If you're wondering whether you can annul your marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this article explains what an annulment is, when a marriage can be annulled, and the effects of an annulment.

You'll want to check with the probate and family court of the county where you or your spouse live to see if they have requirements beyond the steps listed below. Contact a Massachusetts family law attorney in for advice if you have other specific questions about whether your marriage can be annulled.

Overview of an Annulment

An annulment is different from a divorce: a divorce ends a marriage; an annulment means no legal marriage ever existed. Some people may prefer an annulment to a divorce for social or religious reasons. If your marriage was invalid from the date of marriage, you may be able to have your marriage annulled.

Grounds For an Annulment in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, you will have to show one of the following "grounds" reasons for an annulment:

  • the spouses are related closer than first cousin, or the spouse of a close relative
  • one spouse had a living husband or wife at the time of marriage
  • one spouse defrauded the other to convince them to marry
  • one spouse is impotent
  • one spouse coerced the other spouse to get married
  • one spouse is mentally incompetent
  • one spouse hid a contagious disease
  • one spouse is underage, or
  • any other reason that the marriage should be annulled.

Some grounds for annulment have additional requirements:

If a spouse is mentally incompetent, they must have been so impaired at the time of marriage that they did not understand what was happening. A marriage will not be annulled on these grounds unless there is clear proof that the incompetent spouse was unable to consent to the marriage because they didn't understand what it means to get married.

If a spouse wants an annulment because of the other spouse's fraud, the fraud has to be about something essential to the marriage. For example, courts have annulled marriages when a wife lied about being pregnant by the husband, and when a husband married his wife just for immigration status. Courts have also annulled a marriage where one spouse had an incurable venereal disease and the parties had not yet had sexual intercourse. On the other hand, courts have also refused to grant an annulment when a spouse hides other serious diseases, and also when a spouse hid having a previous marriage and divorce. Lies about prior life or personal characteristics are never enough for an annulment based on fraud.

If a spouse wants the marriage annulled because they were coerced into the marriage, the spouse must have been threatened to the point where they had no free choice to get married.

If one spouse is under 18 but a parent or guardian consented to the marriage, and a court approved, it will not be annulled.

If a spouse wants an annulment because of a fact they didn't know at the time of marriage, they have to stop living with the other spouse immediately after discovering that fact to be eligible for an annulment.

How Do I Get an Annulment in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, you have to file a "Complaint for Annulment" in the probate and family court for the county where you or your spouse live, with one exception: when one spouse still lives in the county where the couple last lived together the complaint should be filed in that county. Either spouse or a guardian of a spouse can file the complaint. A link to a sample complaint for annulment is below, as well as a link to contact information for Massachusetts probate and family courts.

The spouse filing for annulment is called the "plaintiff" in the complaint, and the other spouse is the "defendant."

Your complaint for annulment should list the name and address of each spouse, and the date and location of the marriage. The complaint should also list the names and birthdates of any children born during the marriage. You need to state the legal ground that makes your marriage eligible to be annulled. If you need the court to decide child custody, child support or division of property, you should say that in your complaint as well.

After you file your complaint with your local probate and family court, you will need to serve your spouse with a copy of the complaint. The clerk at your probate and family court can give you options to serve your spouse. It is still possible to serve your spouse when they live out of the Commonwealth or you can't find your spouse.

A judge in your local family and probate court will decide whether to grant the annulment. The judge won't grant the annulment unless you've shown convincing evidence of the legal grounds for annulment in your complaint. If the judge believes you have proven your grounds, the judge will sign an order granting the annulment of your marriage.

Effect of an Annulment

When the court grants an annulment, it means no legal marriage ever existed. Both spouses can say that they were never legally married to each other.

In Massachusetts, when a marriage is annulled, the judge can still decide child custody, visitation, and child support like in a divorce. The judge can divide property that the spouses have, and also order that an innocent spouse receive alimony.

A marriage with children can still be annulled. In Massachusetts, children of an annulled marriage are considered legitimate unless the marriage was incestuous. Whether a child is declared legitimate or born out of wedlock, both parents have the duty to financially support the child.


For the full text of the law on annulment in Massachusetts, see the Massachusetts General Laws, Part II, Title III, Chapter 207

A sample complaint for annulment is here:

Contact information for Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts is here:

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