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Massachusetts Divorce Laws

All states have laws that govern the divorce process. These laws address residency requirements, waiting periods, and grounds for divorce. For example, in some cases, in Massachusetts, the person filing for divorce must have lived in-state for at least one year. This article will discuss the divorce process in Massachusetts.

For most people considering divorce, these laws can be confusing. This is why most people retain a divorce attorney to handle their case. This is true for the plaintiff (person filing for divorce) and the defendant (the plaintiff’s spouse).

Here, we’ll provide an overview of the divorce process in Massachusetts. We’ll also offer links to helpful resources you may need for a Massachusetts divorce.

Read on to learn more about Massachusetts divorce laws.

Divorce Requirements in Massachusetts

Some of the most important Massachusetts divorce laws are discussed below. For more detailed information and helpful articles, visit FindLaw's Divorce section. This section will provide additional information and answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ).

Code Section

The statute governing divorce in Massachusetts is Chapter 208, et seq., of Massachusetts General Laws. The probate and family court handles all divorce cases. You must submit the original forms to the court clerk when you file your divorce complaint and pay the required filing fees.

The clerk will ensure they have the necessary court forms, financial statements, and affidavits. Once you confirm that the court has processed your complaint, you will serve your spouse with a copy of your paperwork. The courts refer to this process as “service.”

It’s important to note that, under Massachusetts law, the person filing the complaint for divorce is the plaintiff. The other spouse is the defendant. Other states may use the terms petitioner and respondent.

In some cases, you and your spouse can file a joint petition for a divorce. These divorces occur when both spouses want the divorce and agree to all the terms of the divorce. Neither party accuses the other party of fault grounds and they both agree their marriage is irretrievably broken. For purposes of this article, we will focus on cases involving a single plaintiff and defendant.

Residency Requirements

To file for divorce, be it a no-fault divorce or a contested divorce, you must meet one of the following residency requirements:

  • You and your spouse lived together in the commonwealth as a married couple
  • You (the plaintiff) must have lived in the state for at least one year before filing
  • The cause of the divorce took place within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the plaintiff is a resident of the state
  • The cause for divorce happened in another state, but the spouses have lived together in Massachusetts for at least one year

You must wait to file your complaint if you don’t meet the residency requirements. You can live separately from your spouse until you meet the residency requirement. Your divorce attorney can negotiate a separation agreement to cover marital issues pending filing your complaint for divorce.

Waiting Period

There is a period between after the divorce is filed and the judge signs a final order. During this time, your spouse has an opportunity to respond to the divorce pleadings. Even after the order is signed there is another period that must pass before the divorce is final.

Depending on which type of divorce you file determines the waiting period. This period is 90 days or 120 days after the court has entered a final order. This is a mandatory cooling-off period, giving you ample time to reconsider whether divorce is your best option and whether your spouse has been truthful about their financial information.

No-Fault Grounds for Divorce

Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state. Plaintiffs need only claim that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This means there are issues with the marriage that you and your spouse cannot resolve. It also means there is no chance of reconciliation.

Divorces that begin with one party claiming a ground or grounds for divorce often end up being completed as a no-fault divorce based on the marriage being irretrievably broken.

Grounds for Divorce

Massachusetts recognizes the following grounds for divorce:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment/desertion for at least one year
  • Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication or drug abuse
  • Cruel and abusive treatment/Domestic violence
  • Impotence
  • Non-support
  • Prison sentence of at least five years

The Massachusetts courts only require grounds for divorce in a contested divorce case. If you file an uncontested divorce, you don’t have to cite specific grounds for divorce. It’s enough that you certify that an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage has occurred.

Defenses to a Divorce Filing

There are some defenses to a divorce filed on fault grounds. The defendant may deny the allegations and file a counter-claim. A counterclaim may contain fault allegations made against the plaintiff.

If you have been served with a divorce pleading that alleges fault grounds, it's extremely important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. There is a short amount of time allowed to respond to the divorce pleading. Failure to respond could result in adverse actions being taken against you.

Alimony and Spousal Support in Massachusetts

There is no guarantee that either party to a divorce will receive alimony. You can demand spousal support in your complaint, but the court will determine whether you qualify for this support. Many states refer to this support as spousal support, but Massachusetts still uses the term alimony.

Some of the factors the family law judge will consider when determining alimony include:

  • Length of the marriage
  • The income of both spouses
  • Age and health of the parties
  • Spouses’ employment, education, and earning potential
  • Economic and non-economic contributions to the marriage
  • Lifestyle and standard of living during the marriage
  • Economic opportunities the parties lost during the marriage

Some judges will also consider the marital assets and real estate the parties receive as part of the divorce agreement. For example, if the lower-earning spouse gets the marital home as part of the divorce settlement, they may receive less alimony.

Child Custody and Child Support

One of the most complex issues to resolve in divorce is child custody. In most cases, both parents demand time with their children, with one parent becoming the custodial parent while the other becomes the non-custodial parent.

The custodial parent will have primary physical custody of the children, but the parents often share legal custody. Legal custody involves making decisions about the children’s health, welfare, and education. Massachusetts recognizes both sole and shared legal custody as well as physical custody.

Whichever parent has primary physical custody will almost always receive child support. The court determines the amount of child support using the state’s child support guidelines.

The custodial parent will be the parent the child lives with most of the time. A typical arrangement is where the kids live with one parent during the week and spend every other weekend with the other parent.

When determining custody, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the children. Even if the parties negotiate a parenting plan, the judge may not approve it. It depends on whether the agreement is best for the minor children.

Get Professional Help With Your Massachusetts Divorce Case

Depending on the circumstances, divorce cases can be complex. They’re also stressful and emotionally challenging. If you have questions about the divorce process in Massachusetts, contact an experienced divorce attorney.

Research the Law

Massachusetts Divorce Laws: Related Resources

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information, please consult an attorney or conduct legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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