Annulment vs. Divorce in Massachusetts

Divorce is not the only option for dissolution of a marriage in Massachusetts. Some couples are eligible to have their marriages annulled rather than ending the marriage through divorce. 

Annulment is considerably less common, and it is not as well understood. There are annulment processes through religious organizations, but a legal annulment is quite different. So that you can understand the choices that may be available to you, in this post we will explore differences and similarities between annulment and divorce in Massachusetts. 

Understanding the Basics

At first glance, both annulment and divorce serve the same purpose—legally ending a marriage. However, the fundamental difference lies in how they treat the marriage’s validity. A divorce terminates a legally valid marriage, acknowledging its existence. On the other hand, an annulment declares the marriage null and void, meaning that the marriage never legally existed. While divorce is a common route for many, annulments apply to specific situations governed by particular requirements. 

Criteria for Annulment in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, annulments are granted only under specific circumstances that are defined by law. These laws differentiate between marriages that are “void” and those that are “voidable.” Understanding the distinction and whether your situation fits these criteria can be complex, and that’s where we come in to help clarify these nuances.

  • Void Marriages: These are considered illegal from the beginning and include:
    • Bigamy: One spouse was already married to another living person at the time of the marriage. The person requesting the annulment must not have known the other person was already married.
    • Incest: The spouses are closely related by blood, closer than first cousins.
  • Voidable Marriages: These marriages appear legal but can be annulled for various reasons, including:
    • Fraud: One spouse lied or hid something essential that goes to the heart of the marriage. Examples include lying about the ability to have children, not intending to remain faithful, or marrying only for a green card.
    • Coercion: One spouse was forced or threatened into the marriage.
    • Impotence: One spouse is physically unable to have sexual intercourse, and this was unknown to the other spouse before the marriage.
    • Underage: One or both spouses were below the legal age of marriage (18 years) and did not have parental consent or a court order allowing the marriage.
    • Lack of Mental Capacity: At the time of the marriage, one spouse was incapable of understanding the nature of the marriage due to mental illness or incapacitation.

Voided marriages remain valid unless someone initiates annulment proceedings. If one spouse in a voidable marriage requests an annulment but the other wants to remain married, that spouse can ask the court to affirm the marriage.

When a marriage is annulled, there is no marital property to divide because there was no marriage. Similarly, there will be no alimony obligations, although there may be custody and child support issues to resolve. Judges look very carefully at the situation to determine whether an annulment is justified, so that can make it more difficult to obtain an annulment than to obtain a divorce. 


Divorce acknowledges the marriage’s existence and seeks to dissolve it legally. This process can be emotionally taxing and complex, involving several critical steps that impact both parties’ futures. In Massachusetts, the divorce process includes dividing assets and determining alimony, each of which requires careful consideration and negotiation.

  • Dividing Assets: Massachusetts follows the principle of equitable distribution, meaning the court divides marital property fairly, though not necessarily equally. Factors considered include the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, each spouse’s contribution to marital property, and the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property becomes effective.
  • Determining Alimony: Alimony, or spousal support, is not guaranteed in every divorce. It depends on several factors, including the length of the marriage, the age and health of each spouse, the income and employment opportunities of each spouse, and the lifestyle enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage. Massachusetts law provides for different types of alimony, including general term, rehabilitative, reimbursement, and transitional alimony.

In Massachusetts, parties can opt for a no-fault divorce, citing an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This means that neither spouse blames the other for the failure of the marriage and they agree that the marriage cannot be saved. Alternatively, a fault-based divorce cites specific reasons for the divorce, such as adultery, desertion, or abuse. 

Choosing the Right Path for You

Deciding between annulment and divorce hinges on various factors, including the length of your marriage, your personal beliefs, and the specifics of your situation. Annulment might appeal to those who prefer to erase the legal existence of their marriage, often for religious or personal reasons. It may be possible to obtain a religious annulment even if you are not eligible for a legal annulment. 

Annulments can be more challenging to obtain due to the strict criteria. Divorce may be a more accessible option for many and it provides a clear legal framework for addressing the complexities of ending a relationship, such as how to divide property. If there are children involved, custody and child support issues will need to be resolved regardless of whether the marriage is ended through divorce or annulment.

Navigating Your Path with Reade Law Firm, PC

At Reade Law Firm, PC, we understand the emotional and legal complexities of deciding between annulment and divorce. We’re here to listen, offer guidance, and develop a strategy that aligns with your goals and needs. Whether your path leads to annulment or divorce, our team is equipped to advocate for your interests, ensuring you’re supported every step of the way.

Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation. Whether through mediation, collaborative processes, or court proceedings, we’re prepared to help protect your interests. Contact us online or call us at (978) 767-8383.