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Massachusetts Legal Separation Laws

Going through a breakup can be heart-wrenching. The idea of getting a divorce may trouble you. A legal separation may be a better option. Separation allows you to take time away from each other and work things out.

Unfortunately, not all states recognize legal separations. Some won’t enforce a separation agreement. This makes things even more difficult. Massachusetts happens to be one of these states. You can have an informal separation from your spouse, but it won't offer the same protection as a summary dissolution or divorce.

For example, your spouse won’t have a court order requiring them to pay you alimony during the separation. Nor will the court oversee the property division. You must file a motion with the local family law court to make this happen. You would also have to petition the court for custody of the minor children.

Here, we’ll discuss how separation works under Massachusetts law and what you can do to protect yourself during your separation. We will also explain what to do if you decide to proceed with a divorce or dissolution.

Spousal Support and Separation

If a couple wants to separate in Massachusetts, they can do so without the help of a family law attorney. They can also petition the court for spousal support without a legal order for separation from the court. This is the best option for couples who wish to live separately but want to remain married. You can do this by filing a Complaint for Separate Support.

People who choose this option often have religious objections to divorce or are facing financial burdens that will make it difficult to divorce.

If you file a support case, the judge will determine if there is justifiable cause for living apart. The following qualify as justifiable reasons for living separately:

  • Cruel and abusive treatment
  • Desertion
  • Adultery
  • Confirmed habits of intoxication
  • Gross nonsupport
  • Other fault grounds recognized in divorce cases

You must submit an affidavit outlining your reasons for requesting spousal support.

Once you establish that your separation is justifiable, you can ask the judge to order your spouse to pay spousal support. When making this decision, the court will consider the income of both spouses, living expenses, custody of children, and the value of joint bank accounts.

In addition, you must pay a filing fee when you file your petition for support.

Massachusetts Legal Separation Laws: Highlights

Below, we'll discuss some of the basics of separation in Massachusetts, specifically addressing the issue of spousal support during your separation.

Massachusetts Laws

Massachusetts Code Chapter 208, Section 49 and Section 53 govern whether you can demand spousal support from your spouse during a separation and discuss the factors the court will consider. If you already have a divorce agreement, your divorce attorney can petition the court for a modification of spousal support/alimony.

Is Legal Separation Required for Divorce?

Since Massachusetts law doesn’t recognize legal separation, the family courts don’t require this for divorce. However, you can cite abandonment or desertion as grounds for divorce in your divorce petition.

You must also demonstrate that you have lived in Massachusetts for one year before filing for divorce. If you have filed for divorce based on an irretrievably broken marriage, and there are unresolved issues, the court will not set a final hearing until six months have elapsed. Parties can settle contested items before the six months, which may lead to the divorce being finalized sooner.

Considering a Legal Separation? Talk to a Local Divorce Attorney First

You have options if you want a break from your spouse but aren’t ready to file for divorce. While Massachusetts law doesn’t recognize legal separation, you can separate from your spouse informally.

Knowing how much is at stake during a separation, it’s best to seek legal advice before making final decisions. An attorney can help negotiate a temporary parenting plan and even help with a partial division of assets.

Visit’s divorce attorney directory to find a lawyer to guide you through a difficult time.

Massachusetts Legal Separation Laws: Related Resources

If you have additional questions about your legal separation or want to do your own research, click the links below to learn more.

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 available, please consult an attorney or conduct your legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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