Massachusetts Divorce Law


Divorce – State Law Summary – Massachusetts

Notes:  This summary is not intended to be an all-inclusive summary of the laws of divorce, but does contain basic and other procedures.

Grounds for divorce
A divorce may be granted in the Massachusetts on the following grounds:
1.  Adultery;
2.  Impotency;
3.  Desertion for at least one year;
4.  Addiction to drugs/alcohol;
5.  Cruel and abusive treatment;
6.  Refusal to support spouse when able;
7.  Confinement in penal institution for 5 or more years;
8.  Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. MGLS 208:1

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.  MGLS 208:4-5

Venue
An action for divorce may be filed in the county of the parties’ last residence as husband and wife.  If neither spouse still lives in the county of the last marital domicile, the divorce may be filed in the county where either party resides.  MGLS 208:6

Name of court and title of action/parties
An action for divorce is filed in the Probate Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The title of the action initiating the divorce is known as the Complaint or Petition, while the title of the action granting the divorce is referred to as the Judgment of Divorce.  The filing party is known as the Plaintiff or Petitioner and the other party to the action is referred to as the Defendant or Respondent.  If a joint complaint is filed, both parties are referred to as Co-PetitionersMGLS 208:8

Simplified divorce procedure
An action for divorce based upon the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage may be commenced by the parties filing a joint complaint and a sworn affidavit alleging that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown along with a separation agreement.  No summons or answer is required if this method is chosen.  After the court has a hearing in which the separation agreement is examined to determine if proper provisions were made for alimony, property distribution and custody and support of any children of the marriage, the court will within thirty days of the hearing make a finding of whether the divorce should be granted. MGLS 208:1A

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 party seeking separation from the other.  MGLS 208:20

Mediation
When the parties file for divorce under the no-fault provisions of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the court may at any time prior the issuance of the judgment of divorce require the parties to participate in family or marriage counseling.  MGLS 208:1A

Alimony
Either party to a divorce may be ordered to pay alimony to the other spouse.  In determining the amount and nature of the alimony award, the court will consider the following factors:
1.  The length of the marriage;
2.  The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
3.  The age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income;
4.  The vocational skills and employability of the parties;
5.  The estate, liabilities and needs of each party;
6.  The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income;
7.  The present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage;
8.  The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.
9.  The contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.

In addition, the court shall also determine whether the spouse ordered to pay alimony has health insurance or whether health insurance is reasonably available.  If so, the court will order that health insurance be extended to cover the other spouse or purchased for the other spouse when reasonably available.  MGLS 208:34

Property distribution
The court may assign to either spouse all or part of the estate of the other spouse after consideration of the following factors:
1.  The length of the marriage;
2.  The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
3.  The age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income;
4.  The vocational skills and employability of the parties;
5.  The estate, liabilities and needs of each party;
6.  The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of capital assets and income;
7.  The present and future needs of any dependent children of the marriage;
8.  The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.
9.  The contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.  MGLS 208:34

Child custody
In  determining the custody of minor children of the marriage, the court will look to the child’s best interests.  When considering the child’s best interests, the court shall consider whether the child’s present or past living conditions adversely affect his physical, mental, moral or emotional health.  The court will also consider whether any family member abuses alcohol or drugs, has deserted the child, and 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, the parties 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.  MGLS 208:31

Child support
Massachusetts has enacted 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.  MGLS 208:28

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.  MRDRP 401

Name change
Upon the granting of a divorce, the court may allow a woman to resume the use of her former or maiden name.  MGLS 208:23