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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in Massachusetts

Parties who choose to terminate marital unions may do so either by divorce or annulment. While annulment and divorce offer legal ends to a marital union, each has different processes and requirements. For example, Massachusetts laws only allow for annulment in cases where a marriage is voidable or void. Additionally, divorce legally terminates a marital union, while annulment renders it void; the law treats annulled marriages as though the marriages never existed. In Massachusetts, the Probate and Family court hears divorce and annulment cases.

What is a Massachusetts Divorce Decree?

In Massachusetts, a divorce decree is a divorce judgment or Judgment of Divorce Nisi. The divorce decree is the final part of the divorce process, and it makes the divorce legally binding. Massachusetts divorce decrees contain information about the divorce, including alimony, custody plans, child support schedule, and other agreements that the divorced parties make in the divorce process. The divorce decree also contains the date when the court finalized the divorce and the judge’s signature.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, annulment returns the involved parties’ status to when the marriage did not exist; this means that when a Massachusetts court grants annulment, the court declares the marriage void and deems the parties as though such parties were never legally married. Only voidable and void marriages are eligible for annulment in Massachusetts (M. G. L. c. 207 § 14)..

Except where the court grants a sealing order, annulment records are accessible to the public in Massachusetts. Interested parties may submit written requests to the Court Clerk in the county where the court granted the annulment.

Annulment vs Divorce in Massachusetts

Massachusetts laws provide for annulment only for void and voidable marriages. The law declares a marriage void or voidable if:

  • The marriage is incestuous; that is, the married parties are closely related by blood or marriage.
  • A party is married to another person without the petitioner’s knowledge (bigamy)
  • A party is physically incapable of sexual intercourse (impotence)
  • A party entered the marriage for fraudulent reasons.
  • A party did not have the mental or legal capacity to consent to marriage at the time of marriage.

Interested parties may initiate annulment proceedings by filing the following forms at the Probate and Family court:

  • Complaint for Annulment
  • Certificate of Absolute Divorce or Annulment
  • A financial statement
  • Uniform Counsel Certification form
  • Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceedings

The court charges an annulment filing fee of $200, a $15 annulment surcharge, and a $5 Annulment summons fee. However, eligible persons who cannot afford court fees may file for indigency. Once the petitioner files the required forms, the petitioner must arrange the complaint and summons’ service to the defendant. Based on proven grounds, the judge determines whether to grant an annulment.

State laws provide for fault divorces, no-fault uncontested divorce, and no-fault contested divorce proceedings. A fault divorce is contested; in it, parties do not agree about the divorce and other related issues, such as child support and alimony. The legal fault grounds for divorce in Massachusetts are:

  • Desertion
  • Non-support
  • Abusive and cruel treatment
  • Adultery
  • Impotence
  • Habitual intoxication

In a no-fault contested divorce, the parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken down but do not agree over divorce-related issues.

To be eligible to file for divorce in Massachusetts, the parties must have lived in Massachusetts for at least one (1) year. Alternatively, if the couple has lived in Massachusetts and the reason for the marriage’s irretrievable breakdown occurred in the state, either party may file for divorce.

Parties interested in filing for divorce must file:

  • Complaint for Divorce (for fault divorces) or Complaint for Divorce (for no-fault contested divorces)
  • Financial statements
  • A certified copy of the couple’s marriage certificate
  • Record of absolute divorce

Petitioning parties may file the paperwork in person at the Probate and Family Courthouse or by mail. The court charges a filing fee of $200, a $15 surcharge, and a Divorce summons charge of $5. Parties in a divorce must prepare a separation agreement, which itemizes the couple’s plan for divorce-related issues. At the hearing, the judge may reject, amend, or accept the agreement. Parties who cannot agree must go through a trial.

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In Massachusetts?

No, an annulment is not cheaper than a divorce in Massachusetts. Both cases have financial implications and can take time, depending on the circumstances surrounding each case and the court’s schedule. Parties in a divorce or annulment case must pay filing fees, court fees, and typically, attorney’s fees. However, the requirements for each process are different; parties who do not qualify for annulment may choose to go through the divorce process.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts?

An uncontested divorce, also known as a no-fault 1A divorce, is one where both parties that the marriage has suffered an irreparable breakdown (M. G. L. c. 208).. It is a no-fault divorce because an irretrievable breakdown is the only ground the court requires to grant a divorce. The parties also agree on divorce issues such as parenting time, child custody, jointly-owned property, alimony, and other marital assets. Persons with dependent children may get an uncontested no-fault divorce in Massachusetts. Typically, uncontested divorces take less time than contested divorces as uncontested divorces do not involve trials or court appearances.

Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in Massachusetts

Persons interested in filing for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts must meet the state’s residency requirements. The first process in an uncontested divorce filing is writing a separation agreement. The separation agreement highlights the couple’s agreed plans for visitation, child custody, alimony, and other divorce issues. The parties must sign the separation agreement and get it notarized; however, it is important to note that the agreement is not binding until a judge signs the agreement. Parties must file the following by mail or in person at the Probate and Family courthouse in the county where either party resides:

  • Joint Petition for Divorce
  • A copy of the couple’s marriage certificate
  • Report of Absolute Divorce and Annulment
  • An affidavit or irretrievable breakdown
  • Financial statements
  • Separation agreement

Persons with dependent children must attend a parent education program and also file:

  • An affidavit disclosing care or custody proceeding
  • Child support guidelines worksheet

The court charges a divorce filing fee of $200 and a $15 surcharge. Parties may pay using bank checks, money orders, credit cards, or cash. Persons who cannot afford court fees may apply for a waiver by filing an Affidavit of Indigency form and a Supplement to the Affidavit of Indigency form.

After the parties file the required paperwork, the court sets a hearing date. Both parties must be present at the hearing unless the court grants a party’s waiver motion. When the court determines that the separation agreement considers both parties’ best interests and that the marriage is indeed irretrievably broken down, the judge will enter a divorce order. Thirty days after the judge enters an order, the court automatically enters a judgment nisi. The nisi becomes finalized 90 days after the judge enters the judgment.

Interested parties may request uncontested divorce records by mail or in person at the courthouse.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in Massachusetts?

Interested parties may request copies of divorce decrees in Massachusetts by filing the Request for Copies form. Requesting parties may submit the forms to the Probate and Family court where the divorce was granted by mail or in person. Requesting parties must provide the docket number, case type, and the record subjects’ names. The court charges $20 for certified copies of a Massachusetts Divorce Nisi and $1 for additional certified pages. Requesting parties may make payment using a money order, attorney’s check, bank check, or bank cashier’s check addressed to ‘Commonwealth of Massachusetts.’

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I Get a Massachusetts Divorce Decree Online?

Interested parties may request archived divorce records, such as records of divorces between 1629 and 1922, online. The Judicial Archivist for the Supreme Judicial Court Archives maintains archival information, and requesting parties may find such records by filling a Court Archives Information Request form online. For divorces that took place after the archival period, requesting parties must submit records requests by mail or in person at the courthouse.