Massachusetts Divorce FAQ

Divorce – State FAQ – Massachusetts

Residency requirements, venue and procedures

Q: How long must I have lived in Massachusetts prior to filing for divorce in an Massachusetts court?

A: 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.

Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?

A: 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-Petitioners.

Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?

A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. In Massachusetts, proper venue for the divorce action is the Probate Court. 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.

Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce? The order granting the divorce?

A: The title of the document initiating the divorce proceeding is the Petition or Complaint, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Judgment of Divorce.

Grounds for divorce

Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?

A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in Massachusetts. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.

Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in Massachusetts?

A: A divorce may be granted on any of 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; and,
8. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Simplified divorce procedure

Q: Is a simplified divorce proceeding provided by Massachusetts law?

A: Yes. 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.

Spousal support/alimony

Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?

A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.

Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?

A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.

Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?

A: 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 factors listed in the Massachusetts Divorce Information section on the Massachusetts Divorce Main Page.

Property Division

Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?

A: 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; and,
9. The contribution of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.

Child custody and visitation

Q: What is child custody and visitation?

A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).

Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?

A: The court may award custody to either parent, regardless of sex, subject to the best interests of the child. In determining the child’s best interests, the court shall consider the factors discussed in the Divorce Information section on the Massachusetts Divorce Main Page.

Child support

Q: What is “child support”?

A: Child support is money paid by the non custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).

Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?

A: Massachusetts has enacted child support guidelines that are presumed to be the correct amount of child support due. The court may deviate from the guidelines if the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances.

Inside Massachusetts Divorce FAQ