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Massachusetts Divorce Process

Deciding to get divorced may be one of the most challenging things you ever do. The divorce process goes much more smoothly if you and your spouse can agree on the terms of your divorce. However, if you blame each other for the marriage falling apart, things can get ugly.

Before you file a complaint for divorce in Massachusetts, you should become familiar with the divorce process in your state. The good news is that we’ll explain how the divorce process in Massachusetts works. We’ll also discuss the legal requirements for getting divorced in Massachusetts.

If you still have questions, it’s best to consult an experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyer. They can answer your questions and stand by you throughout the divorce proceedings.

Legal Requirements for a Divorce in Massachusetts

Every state has laws governing the divorce process. Massachusetts is no different. If you don’t meet these basic requirements, the family court will dismiss your divorce complaint, and you’ll have to refile your divorce case.

Some of the legal requirements for divorce in Massachusetts include:

  • Residency Requirement: The general rule is that you must have lived in Massachusetts for at least one year before you file for divorce. There are exceptions, however, that may permit you to file for divorce before living there for a year. You must file your divorce complaint in the county where you and your spouse lived together if either of you still reside in that county. If neither of you reside in the county you and your spouse last lived together in, then you can file in either your current county of residence or your spouse's.
  • Waiting Period: Massachusetts has a six-month waiting period. The judge cannot issue a final divorce decree until at least six months after your filing. However, if the parties convert their divorce to a joint petition, the waiting period can be reduced to 90 or 120 days depending on your type of divorce.
  • Service of Process: The Massachusetts courts require you to serve a copy of your divorce forms on your spouse. This includes a copy of the summons and complaint. You have 90 days to do this. Most people use the local sheriff to serve a copy of the legal papers on the defendant. You can also hire a process server to handle this.
  • Filing fees: You must pay the requisite filing fee when you submit your legal paperwork to the court. The filing fee for divorce as of 2024 is $215. This $215 includes the flat fee of $200 and a surcharge of $15. If you can prove indigency, the court may waive this fee. Service of process fees are additional.

Attorney fees will depend on the type of divorce action you file. For example, finalizing a contested divorce takes much longer than an uncontested divorce. It will also involve a lot of back and forth between the divorce attorneys. This type of divorce will cost much more than an uncontested divorce.

Contested Divorce and Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts

The two main types of divorce are a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce. In Massachusetts, an uncontested divorce is called a 1A Divorce. You and your spouse must agree on most divorce terms with an uncontested divorce.

The court will require that you have already resolved the following issues:

To file a 1A divorce, the courts require you and your spouse to have a written agreement outlining these issues. It’s not uncommon for the parties in an uncontested case to have a separation agreement. This can make resolving your case much easier for your family law attorney.

With a contested divorce, called a 1B no-fault divorce, you and your spouse disagree on the divorce terms or one of the spouses does not agree the marriage is broken. For example, you may demand alimony while your spouse refuses to pay it, or you and your spouse may disagree on child custody.

Some of the other issues that may exist with a contested divorce include:

  • Health insurance for minor children
  • Parenting time
  • Division of marital property and liabilities

When there are outstanding issues, the court considers your divorce case contested. These cases take several months or years to become final. When the judge decides these issues, they will issue a Judgment of Divorce Nisi. This means the court has resolved the remaining issues but has not yet granted a final divorce decree.

Judgment of Divorce Nisi

In most states, once the family law judge finalizes a divorce, they issue a divorce decree. This isn’t the case in Massachusetts. Massachusetts has a mandatory cooling-off period, or nisi period, after the judge finalizes your divorce.

If you file a 1A divorce (uncontested), the nisi period is 120 days. For 1B divorces (contested), the nisi period is only 90 days.

Once the nisi period ends, the judge will issue your Certificate of Divorce Absolute. This is similar to a final divorce decree. The court will not automatically send you a copy of this certificate. Your divorce attorney must request a copy.

Massachusetts Divorce Laws

Below is a chart highlighting the basics of the divorce process in Massachusetts and explaining the statutes in plain language.

Massachusetts Divorce Codes

Massachusetts Code Chapter 208, Title III Domestic Relations, Sections 1-55

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for a divorce include:

  • Adultery
  • Impotency
  • Utter desertion for a year
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug abuse
  • Abusive and cruel treatment
  • Failure to provide support
  • Conviction of a crime with a sentence of five or more years
  • Absence raising the presumption of death
  • Irretrievable breakdown

Section 1A Divorce

Provides an action for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts. Both parties must agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. They must also have a written agreement regarding property division and other divorce issues.

Section 1B Divorce

Provides an action for a contested divorce in Massachusetts. Here, one spouse files a complaint for divorce procedure against the other. There is a six-month waiting period. The court is unable to schedule a hearing during this time. The court can waive this under appropriate circumstances.

Getting Divorced in Massachusetts? A Local Attorney Can Help

Divorce can be incredibly stressful and confusing. There's a lot at stake, and any mistakes will be difficult to rectify. Rather than handling the divorce yourself, it’s best to consult an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney for legal advice.

Not only does your divorce lawyer know the local laws and judges, they’re also familiar with the divorce process in Massachusetts. Consider putting their experience to work for you.

Related Resources

The following links provide additional information regarding the Massachusetts divorce procedure:

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