Massachusetts Divorce Laws
The state of Massachusetts has unique divorce laws for people who wish to terminate their marriage.
We are providing this online divorce information to you as an easy divorce reference guide to help you while you are doing your own divorce. This information (and much more) is available inside your personal 3StepDivorce account area in order to help you understand how Massachusetts addresses the most important issues in the divorce process and certain elements throughout your divorce forms.
The following overview of Massachusetts divorce laws will help you understand the filing procedure and other primary issues concerning your divorce. Please keep in mind that our Massachusetts online divorce service and support staff will make the process easy for you from start to finish. We take the difficulty out of doing your own divorce.
Residency Requirements: In order to file for a divorce in Massachusetts, you or your spouse must meet the strict residency requirements. These requirements permit the court to have jurisdiction of your case, resulting in allowing you to use their judicial system. These requirements are only a concern for spouses who have recently relocated or plan to relocate in the near future. They are as follows:
One of the spouses must be a resident of the state of Massachusetts if the grounds for divorce occurred in Massachusetts. If the grounds for divorce occurred outside the state of Massachusetts then one spouse must be a resident of the state for at least 1 year.
Actions for divorce shall be filed, heard and determined in the probate court, held for the county where one of the parties lives, except that if either party still resides in the county where the parties last lived together, the action shall be heard and determined in a court for that county. In the event of hardship or inconvenience to either party, the court having jurisdiction may transfer such action for hearing to a court in a county in which such party resides.
The divorce is typically filed with in county in which the filing spouse lives. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 4,5 & 6)
No-Fault Grounds: Most uncontested divorce cases are filed according to a "no-fault" ground. We are using the term "no-fault" in a generic fashion by labeling all grounds that do not actually declare a "fault" as "no-fault". In the state of Massachusetts the "no-fault" grounds are as follows:
Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as provided in sections one A and B; provided, however, that a divorce shall be adjudged although both parties have cause, and no defense upon recrimination shall be entertained by the court.
(A) A. An action for divorce on the ground of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage may be commenced with the filing of: (a) a petition signed by both joint petitioners or their attorneys; (b) a sworn affidavit that is either jointly or separately executed by the petitioners that an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage exists; and (c) a notarized separation agreement executed by the parties except as hereinafter set forth and no summons or answer shall be required.
(B) B. An action for divorce on the ground of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage may be commenced by the filing of the complaint unaccompanied by the signed statement and dissolution agreement of the parties required in section one A. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 1, 1A, 1B and 2)
Filing Party Name: The Plaintiff or Co-Petitioner. This is the spouse who is recognized as the initiator of the divorce and is the one who actually files the Complaint for Divorce with the county court.
Non-Filing Party Name: The Defendant or Co-Petitioner. This spouse plays a lesser role in an uncontested divorce versus a contested divorce. He or she will be required to sign and/or respond in a timely fashion to the documents filed by his or her spouse.
Family Law or Domestic Relations Court: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Trial Court, The Probate and Family Court Department, __________ Division. All divorce cases in the state of Massachusetts are facilitated through this court for that particular county.
Clerk's Name: All correspondence with a Massachusetts clerk of the court should formally address him or her as follows: Office of the Clerk of the Probate Court.
Property and Debt Division: Massachusetts is considered an "equitable distribution" state. If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on how the marital property will be divided, the court shall use a three step process. First, it will determine what property is marital. Second, it will put a value on the marital property. Third, it will divide the marital property in an equitable fashion, which is not necessarily equal, but rather what is considered to be fair.
In determining the appropriate property distribution award, the courts shall consider the following: a. length of the marriage; b. the conduct of the parties during the marriage; c. the age; d. health; e. station; f. occupation; g. amount and sources of income; h. vocational skills; i. employability; j. estate; k. liabilities and needs of each of the parties; l. the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 1A and 34)
Changing Name: The court granting a divorce may allow a woman to resume her maiden name or that of a former husband. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 23)
Spousal Support, Maintenance, or Alimony: Determining the amount of spousal support, if any, is not as objective as determining child support. Spousal support, whether permanent or temporary, is typically decided on a case-by-case basis, because it is very likely that unique circumstances and factors regarding the marriage and the property award will play a significant role in allowing the court to arrive at the appropriate amount.
In determining the amount of alimony, the court shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income.
The court may also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates and the contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit. When the court makes an order for alimony on behalf of a spouse, said court shall determine whether the obligor under such order has health insurance or other health coverage available to him through an employer or organization or has health insurance or other health coverage available to him at reasonable cost that may be extended to cover the spouse for whom support is ordered. When said court has determined that the obligor has such insurance or coverage available to him, said court shall include in the support order a requirement that the obligor do one of the following: exercise the option of additional coverage in favor of the spouse, obtain coverage for the spouse, or reimburse the spouse for the cost of health insurance. In no event shall the order for alimony be reduced as a result of the obligor's cost for health insurance coverage for the spouse. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 1A and 34)
Custody and Visitation: Shared or joint child custody has become more and more popular with the Massachusetts courts. If you and your spouse request to have joint or shared "legal" custody, it will almost always be granted. As for joint or shared "physical" custody, the court will examine this a bit more closely to determine if it is a realistic choice that would result in an arrangement that is best for the children.
In determining what custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child, the court shall consider all relevant facts including, but not limited to, whether any member of the family abuses alcohol or other drugs or has deserted the child and whether the parties have a history of being able and willing to cooperate in matters concerning the child.
If the issue of custody is contested and either party seeks shared legal or physical custody, the parties, jointly or individually, shall submit to the court at the trial a shared custody implementation plan setting forth the details of shared custody including, but not limited to, the child's education; the child's health care; procedures for resolving disputes between the parties with respect to child-raising decisions and duties; and the periods of time during which each party will have the child reside or visit with him, including holidays and vacations, or the procedure by which such periods of time shall be determined.
The court shall consider the shared custody implementation plans submitted by the parties. The court may issue a shared legal and physical custody order and, in conjunction therewith, may accept the shared custody implementation plan submitted by either party or by the parties jointly or may issue a plan modifying the plan or plans submitted by the parties. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 28 and 31)
Determining Child Support: The basis for determining a monthly support amount is best achieved by referring to the Massachusetts child support worksheet. The worksheet utilizes the child support guidelines that are defined by state law. The court will use this same worksheet as a building block for determining the support obligation, that is if you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on this issue.
In determining the amount of the child support obligation or in approving the agreement of the parties, the court shall apply the child support guidelines promulgated by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, and there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the order which would result from the application of the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support to be ordered. If, after taking into consideration the best interests of the child, the court determines that a party has overcome such presumption, the court shall make specific written findings indicating the amount of the order that would result from application of the guidelines; that the guidelines amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances; the specific facts of the case which justify departure from the guidelines; and that such departure is consistent with the best interests of the child.
The court will may deviate from the support obligation based on the support worksheet by address the following issues: alimony payments, tax exemptions for the children, minimum and maximum levels of payment, custody and visitation order, child care, age of the children, health insurance obligations, attribution of income, prior orders of support, and expenses of subsequent families. (Massachusetts General Laws - Chapter 208 - Sections: 28)
Copyright Notice: These Massachusetts divorce laws above are copyrighted by Divorce Source, Inc. This abbreviated and revised version of the state laws has been compiled from applicable state laws and unauthorized reproduction in any fashion is prohibited. Violation of this copyright notice may result in immediate legal action.
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