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Grounds for Divorce Under Massachusetts Divorce Laws

There are several grounds for getting a divorce in the state of Massachusetts:

  • Adultery
  • Impotency
  • Desertion for at least one year
  • Addiction to drugs/alcohol
  • Cruel and abusive treatment
  • Refusal to support spouse when able
  • Confinement in penal institution for 5 or more years
  • Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage

Residency Requirements

If the cause of the divorce occurred outside of Massachusetts, the plaintiff must have resided in Massachusetts for at least one year prior to the filing of the action.  If the cause of the divorce occurred within Massachusetts, at least one of the parties must be a Massachusetts resident. 

Venue – Where to File

Where to file your divorce may often be confusing – between separation and moving, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to go (especially if you’ve moved to a different county). So let’s try to clear up some confusion here. If you and your spouse are still living together (or if at least one of you still lives in the same county that you lived in during your marriage) you simply file in that county. If you both moved to different counties (different from the county you lived in together) then you may file in either your or her county of residence.

Name of Court and Title of Action/Parties

Divorce actions are filed in the Probate Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The action that starts the process of the divorce is known as the Complaint or Petition, and the action that grants you the divorce is referred to as the Judgment of Divorce.  The person who files for divorce is the Plaintiff or Petitioner and the other person in the divorce is called the Defendant or Respondent.  If a joint complaint is filed, then you are both Co-Petitioners

Simplified Divorce Procedure

In Massachusetts, in the case of a divorce based on irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, both you and your spouse may file a joint complaint and a sworn affidavit alleging that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown along with a separation agreement. The court will examine the separation agreement to determine if proper provisions were made for alimony, property distribution and custody and support of any children of the marriage. In this situation, the court will make a decision of whether to grand the divorce within thirty days of the hearing. If you and your spouse can agree on all of the above-mentioned issues outside of court, the divorce process is made much less complicated and frustrating.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is allowed in the state of Massachusetts. When one spouse makes a request for legal separation, the court may issue an order of legal separation of the parties and make provisions for the reasonable separate maintenance and support of the person seeking separation from the other. 

Mediation

If you are filing for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, you may be required to pursue mediation. Massachusetts divorce laws state that the court may order you to participate in family or marriage counseling at any time before issuing your divorce.

Alimony

As in most states, alimony is a big part of divorce and is determined by the courts. There are many factors that the court considers when deciding the amount and duration of the alimony payments. Here is a long list of factors they may consider:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • The age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income
  • The vocational skills and employability of the parties
  • The estate, liabilities and needs of each party
  • The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income
  • The present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage
  • The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates
  • The contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit

The court may also require that you pay for your ex’s health insurance in some cases.

Property Distribution

The State of Massachusetts allows the court to decide who gets what in a divorce. This means that either one of you may get everything or nothing, based on the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • The age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income
  • The vocational skills and employability of the parties
  • The estate, liabilities and needs of each party
  • The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income
  • The present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage
  • The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates
  • The contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit

Child Custody

In the matter of child custody, it is once again up to the courts to determine what they consider to be in the child’s best interest. In order to make this decision, the court will consider a number of issues including but not limited to:

  • Whether the child’s present or past living conditions adversely affect his physical, mental, moral or emotional health
  • Whether any family member abuses alcohol or drugs
  • Whether either parent has deserted the child
  • Whether the parties have a history of being able and willing to cooperate in matters concerning the child

If custody is a contested issue in the divorce, you must submit a parenting plan to the court for its consideration setting forth details regarding the child’s education, health care, procedures for resolving disputes, and visitation. 

Child Support

Massachusetts divorce laws include child support guidelines that are presumed to be the correct amount of child support due.  Deviation from the guidelines requires the court to make a specific written finding stating the amount that would have been due under the guidelines; that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances; state the specific facts justifying the deviation; and find that the deviation is consistent with the child’s best interests. 

Financial Statement

Unless otherwise ordered by the court, each party to a divorce action in Massachusetts must file with the court and deliver to the other party a complete and accurate financial statement showing the assets, liabilities and current income and expenses of the parties. 

Name Change

The court may allow a woman to restore her former or maiden name upon request in accordance with Massachusetts divorce laws. 

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