MASSACHUSETTS DIVORCE BASICS AND OVERVIEW
|This is a divorce reference guide to understanding divorce in Massachusetts. Each state has its own requirements, laws, and documentation, so we decided to gather it all in one location to make it easy and quick for you to find the information you need before, during and after your divorce.|
- Time Frame: As a rule for uncontested divorce filings, the timeline is as long as it takes for both spouses to sign a separation agreement, plus two to six weeks to schedule a hearing date. The divorce becomes final three or four months after the hearing. A contested case that goes to trial can take two years or more.
- Where to File: Probate Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Trial Court, the Probate and Family Court Department ________ Division." (See Massachusetts Court Addresses)
- Statute Statutes: Massachusetts General Laws Annotated; Chapter 208.
- Name of Action: For a fault-based action, Complaint for Divorce; for a no-fault action with a separation agreement, Joint Petition for Divorce.
- Name of Parties: In a fault action, plaintiff, who is the filing spouse, and defendant, who is the other spouse; in no-fault (uncontested) action, petitioner, who files the action, and respondent, the other spouse. For a no-fault action with a separation agreement, both parties are co-petitioners or joint petitioners.
- No-Fault or Fault and No-Fault Only: Both no-fault and fault.
- Primary Documents Filed fro an Uncontested Divorce: Joint Petition For Divorce and Judgment of Divorce. (See MA Forms List With Explanations)
- Physical Separation Required: No, not for no-fault.
- Separation Time to File: Not for no-fault.
- Legal Separation Permitted: Yes, when a spouse fails to support, or deserts, or "gives the other spouse justifiable cause to live part."
- Grounds: No Fault, which means irretrievable breakdown of the marriage; and Fault, which includes adultery, impotence, utter desertion continued for one year prior to the filing of the complaint, gross and confirmed habits of intoxication, excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs, cruel and abusive treatment, or, if a spouse being of sufficient ability. (See Massachusetts Laws for Divorce)
- Residency Requirement: One of the spouses must be a resident of Massachusetts if the grounds for divorce occurred in commonwealth. If the grounds for divorce occurred outside Massachusetts, then one spouse must be a resident for at least 1 year. (See Massachusetts Residency Requirements for Divorce)
- Mediation Required: There is no provision for mandatory mediation in Massachusetts.
- Counseling Required: The court may refer the spouses and children for marriage and family counseling when the couple is divorcing on the ground of irreconcilable differences and the court believes there is a legitimate chance of reconciliation.
- Parenting Classes Required: All divorcing parents with children under the age of 18 must take a parent education class. Online parent education programs are generally NOT accepted in Massachusetts. An alternative option to meet the parent education requirement may be utilized in situations where a waiver may other wise be ordered by the Court.
- Filing Fee: $200. (See MA Filing Fee Waiver Form)
- Where to File for Child Support: The Child Support Enforcement Division collects child support and disperses it and charges a 12 percent interest penalty of a deadbeat parent who fails to pay child support on time. The CSED garnishes wages, intercepts state and tax refunds, seizes lottery winnings and puts liens on property in its efforts to collect past due child suppot.
- Child Support Guidelines Model: Massachusetts uses the percentage of income formula that determines child support as a percentage of the income of the parent obligated to pay it. (See Massachusetts Child Support)
- Property Division: Equitable distribution.
- Appreciation of Separate Property: The appreciation of separate property is marital.
- Attendance at Hearing: Yes. Both spouses attend a hearing to finalize their divorce.
- Fault Considered in Property Division: Yes. Fault reduces the share of the marital estate.
- Waiting period after Divorce for Remarriage: None.
- Ways to Serve Spouse: Service is made by delivering a copy of the divorce papers to him or her personally, or by leaving copies at his or her last residence and usual place of abode, or by delivering the divorce papers to an agent authorized by appointment or by statute to receive service of process, provided that any further notice required by such statute is given.
- Divorce Records: The Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
- Learn More About Massachusetts Divorce.
Mandatory parent education programs are available at locations across the commonwealth. Lists of currently approved programs (including KidCare for Co-Parents: An Educational Program for Divorcing Families) are available on the state government website. This requirement helps parents of children under 18 understand and handle and reduce the stress their children may experience. Attendance at a program is mandatory unless waived by the court. Parties must file their Certificates of Attendance with the Clerk of the Court no later than 30 days after completing the program. When a party cannot take a course in person, he or she may file a Motion to Permit Completion of Parent Education Program via DVD. Each parent pays a fee to the provider of the class in advance.
The Massachusetts Court Rules, published by the Supreme Judicial court, provide child support guidelines,. The guidelines are a hybrid of the percentage of income and Income Share Model. Massachusetts guidelines use the gross income of the non-custodial parent as the basis of the child support obligation, but then offset by a percentage of income of the custodial parent above and beyond a certain established amount set forth in a child support table which the state worksheet references. Massachusetts’s child support allows for extraordinary expenses and or deductions that are either mandatory or permissive as well as deviations from the actual guidelines. Many parents do agree and deviate from the actual guideline amount. In this case the court will have to approve the agreed upon amount before it becomes an actual child support order. Child support ends at 18, but the court may extend to 21 if the child depends on the custodial parent for support or of course if the parents agree to it. If the dependent is enrolled in school, the order may be extended until the age of 23 by the court.
Vital statistic records are kept to help understand the population including divorce statistics and rates etc. The Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics can provide statistics for divorces from 1926 to the present. Most recent divorce statistics may be a little more difficult to retrieve because the county Clerks have 90 days to forward any vital record information to the State. You can contact The Registry of Vital Records & Statistics, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) at 50 Mt. Vernon Street 1st Floor, Dorchester, Massachusetts 02125-3105 or call 617-740-2600. For record of an actual divorce, it is best to start by contacting the records department at the county in which the divorce was filed. You can often receive a copy of the Certificate of Absolute Divorce.