How to File for Divorce In Massachusetts

Requirements for Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, you can get a divorce in 3 ways:

  • A no-fault “1A divorce” or a joint petition.
  • A no-fault “1B divorce” or an individual complaint.
  • An individual complaint, which states that one of the spouses caused the divorce.

To file for a divorce in Massachusetts:

  • Either your spouse or you should be a resident of Massachusetts, in case the grounds for divorce have occurred in the state.
  • Either your spouse or you should be a resident of Massachusetts for a minimum period of 1 year if the grounds for divorce have occurred outside Massachusetts.
  • The spouse filing for divorce must file the papers in the Probate and Family Court of the county where either spouse lives and the case will be heard and finalized in the same place. However, if one of the spouses lives in the county where both the spouses lived together last, the divorce case will be heard and finalized in the court of that particular county.
  • In the case of inconvenience or hardship to either spouse, the court holding the jurisdiction may transfer the case to a court in the county in which the spouse resides.
  • The divorce is usually finalized:
    • 120 days from the judgment date for a 1A divorce.
    • 90 days from the hearing date in case a judgment is entered for a 1B divorce.

MA GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

The Petition or Complaint for Divorce should state the grounds on which you are seeking a divorce. The lawful ground is what both spouses agree upon and that they can validate the ground on which the spouse filing for divorce wants to prove in the court. The grounds for divorce are:

  • In a joint divorce petition or a 1A divorce, both spouses agree to a no-fault divorce. The divorce petition states that the marriage has “broken down irritably”. This essentially means that both the spouses agree that neither of them is responsible for their problems and that they are unable to resolve their marital problems. In a 1A divorce, both spouses are called petitioners and the spouse listed first is known as “petitioner A”, while the other spouse is known as “petitioner B”.
  • Also a no-fault divorce, in the “1B divorce”, the spouse filing the divorce complaint is the “plaintiff”, while the other spouse is known as the “respondent”.
  • The 3rd method of getting a divorce in Massachusetts is a “fault” divorce, where there are specific grounds or reasons required for the divorce. Following are the grounds for a fault-based divorce:
    • Desertion
    • Adultery
    • Cruel and abusive treatment
    • Confirmed and gross habits of intoxication
    • Impotency
    • Non-support
    • Prison sentence of five years or more

HELPFUL TIPS!

  • Save Time & money: An online divorce service is the best way to go if you looking to have a simple divorce and be done within a couple of hours. The most trusted and our favorite provider is 3stepdivorce.com and you can get started for as little as $84.
  • Fees: The cost of filing for divorce in Massachusetts is around $200. If you are unable to pay the fees, then you can fill the “Affidavit of Indigency” and submit it along with your divorce petition or complaint to request for a waiver of the fees.
  • Lawyer Costs: If you plan to hire a divorce lawyer, then your divorce can cost between $5,000 and $35,000 and the average lawyer’s fees are around $12,600.
  • State Resource: The Massachusetts Legal Services has sample forms and self-help brochures. Each county has a website, which can offer more assistance. For information on divorce in Massachusetts, you can click here.

STEP 1:
STARTING A MASSACHUSETTS DIVORCE

Filing out divorce papers cartoon imagePreparing the Documents
To file for divorce in Massachusetts, you need to complete the forms depending on the type of divorce: no-fault 1A or 1B divorce or a fault-based divorce.

Documents Needed for Filing for Divorce

Some of the basic forms that are required for a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts are:

  • Complaint for Divorce
  • Joint Petition for Divorce: This form requests the court to end the marriage on the grounds of an irretrievable breakdown.
  • Financial Statement: This is to be filled by both spouses with details of their income, assets, etc.
  • Registry of Vital Records and Statistics Certificate

If you have children you must fill:

Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Form: Informs the court about the custody orders of the child including who he/she has been living with.
Additional Forms:

  • Worksheet for Child Support Guidelines
  • Settlement Agreement: Has the details of the terms and conditions of property and debt division, child custody, support and visitation, alimony, etc.
  • Trial Request: Must be filled if you require a pre-trial conference.

Filing Your Forms
Once the forms are completed, you can file your papers at the Probate and Family Court in the county where either you or your spouse lives. However, in case your spouse lives in the county where both of you lived together last, you must file your divorce petition in the Probate and Family Court of that particular county.

STEP 2:
SERVING YOUR SPOUSE

serving your spouse cartoon imageIf both your spouse and you have signed the divorce petition in the case of a 1A divorce, there is no requirement for service.

In the case of a 1B divorce, the clerk of the court will return the copy of the divorce complaint along with the summons. You can serve a copy of the forms on your spouse in one of the following ways:

  • Making use of the sheriff in the county where your spouse lives/works.
  • Making use of a private constable. You can check here for a constable who covers the county where your spouse lives/works.
  • Request either your spouse or your spouse’s attorney to accept the service of the papers.

The county sheriff or constable delivering the divorce papers to the defendant spouse will return the proof to the plaintiff that the defendant was served and charge a fee for the service. If the papers are delivered to your spouse or your spouse’s attorney, then they must sign in the summons stating that he/she has received a copy of the divorce complaint. The plaintiff spouse must then mail the summon to the court to prove how the defendant spouse was served.

STEP 3:
UNCONTESTED OR CONTESTED?

MA Contested Divorce (High Costs)Contested divorce cartoon image

If both your spouse and you are not able to arrive at an agreement on some or all the issues of the divorce, then the divorce is contested. A contested divorce usually goes to trial and will be heard by a judge, who will listen to both sides of the argument presented by the couple and then make decisions on the various issues.

It is recommended that both spouses hire a divorce attorney who will present your case in court on your behalf in court.

MA Uncontested Divorce (Low Costs)uncontested divorce cartoon icon

In the case of an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts, both spouses file a joint petition for divorce along with an affidavit of “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” and a separation agreement. All the aspects of the divorce must be addressed in the separation agreement.

In the uncontested divorce, wherein both spouses are in agreement on all the issues, the agreement must be put into writing which the judge must approve. Even if a single issue is not agreed upon, the divorce becomes contested.

In case both spouses agree on all the terms before the divorce petition is filed, then they must file a joint divorce petition or the divorce will begin as a contested one and when the spouses reach an agreement, it will change into an uncontested divorce.

A court hearing is mandatory even in the case of an uncontested divorce as the state is regarded as a party to each marriage and should participate in every divorce in the state. The judge represents the state who should find the settlement reasonable and fair to all the parties involved and that the children are protected properly. In the case a spouse receives public assistance, the judge must protect the state and also ensure that all the parties have insurance coverage. An uncontested divorce is usually quick.  

STEP 4:
DIY OR GET AN ATTORNEY?

DIY Divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)diy divorce icon image

If your spouse and you agree on all the terms of the divorce, then you can handle the divorce on your own without the help of a divorce lawyer (pro se). You can download the appropriate forms that are applicable to your situation from the Massachusetts court website (mentioned above) and fill them properly.

Taking this route will result in the lowest possible costs associated with filing a divorce in Massachusetts. The only issue with this method is the amount of time you will need to figure out what forms and processes you need to follow. 

Once you have completed the forms, then you can file them with the court clerk of the appropriate county with the prescribed filing fee.

Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)online divorce service icon image

Figuring out which documents to file for divorce can be confusing and time consuming and so if you need assistance in completing the documents, but don’t want to hire an attorney, you can use the services of an online divorce service like 3StepDivorce.com. You can get started with an online service for as little as $145 with some providers and as high as $3,000+ depending on what services you need.

They give you step-by-step instructions and walk you through the process of filling your forms and for their service, the divorce service will charge you a fee. Once your papers are completed, you can simply take a print out and file them in the appropriate courthouse with the filing fee.

Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)hire an divorce attorney icon image

If your spouse and you are not able to come to an agreement on the various issues of the divorce, then your case will go to trial where it will be heard by a judge in court.

The judge will then make the decisions regarding the issues that you do not have an agreement on with your spouse such as division of property, child custody, support and visitation, spousal support, etc.

STEP 5:
RESOLVING THE BIG ISSUES

MA Property Divisionproperty distribution law icon image

The marital property is divided equitably between both spouses in Massachusetts since it is an “equitable distribution” state. The court will consider the following factors when dividing the property:

  • Duration of the marriage.
  • Conduct of both spouses during their marriage.
  • Age, health, occupation and station of each spouse.
  • Sources and amount of income of each spouse.
  • Employability and vocational skills of each spouse.
  • Needs and liabilities and estate of each spouse.
  • Opportunity of each spouse for future income and acquisition of capital assets.

Spousal Support (Alimony) Laws

alimony spousal support image icon

The court will decide the alimony after considering various factors such as:

  • Duration of the marriage.
  • Age, health, occupation and station of each spouse.
  • Conduct of both spouses during their marriage.
  • Employability and vocational skills of each spouse.
  • Sources and amount of income of each spouse.
  • Needs and liabilities and estate of each spouse.
  • Opportunity of each spouse for future income and acquisition of capital assets.
  • Contribution of each spouse in the acquisition, appreciation or preservation of the value of their individual estates and the contribution of each spouse to the family as a homemaker.

MA Child Custody Lawscartoon image of child custody

If there are children involved and the parents are not able to agree on the issues involving them, then the court will decide the custody order at its discretion. It will do all that is possible to reduce the emotional trauma of the kids and while making a decision, the court will consider all the relevant factors.

In the case that the custody of the child is contested and either spouse seeks physical or legal custody, both spouses must either individually or jointly submit the joint custody plan settling the details of the:

  • Education of the child.
  • Healthcare of the child.
  • Procedures to resolve the disputes between parent regarding decision and duties of raising the child.
  • When the child will reside with each parent or visit during vacations and holidays or the method by which these periods will be decided.

The court will review the custody implementation plans submitted by the couple and may accept the plan or it may issue a plan that modifies the plan submitted by the parents. The court may also completely reject the submitted plan and issue the physical and legal custody solely to one parent.

MA Child Support Lawscartoon icon of child support

The child support guidelines of Massachusetts makes use of percentage of income formula to calculate the child support obligation of the parent who has the obligation to support the child. And, the court will award child support considering the best interests of the child.

The court may order the support, education and maintenance of a child who is less than 18 years but not 21 or older, lives with the parent and is dependent on the parent for maintenance.

The court may also order the support, education and maintenance of a child who is between 21 and 23 years old, lives with the parent and is dependent on the parent for maintenance because of enrollment in an educational program which excludes the cost of education more than an undergraduate degree.

STEP 6:
FINALIZING YOUR DIVORCE IN MARYLAND

finalizing divorce image icon

When the divorce is filed, if there are minor children from the marriage, both the parents should attend a parent education class approved by the state within 60 days after the papers have been served to the defendant.

Each of the spouses must also create a financial statement and exchange it with the other, using the sort form if he/she earns less than $75,000 or if he/she earns more they should use the long form. This should be available at the time of the hearing.

After a period of 90 days, the divorce is final (“divorce nisi”), where the judge issues a “decree nisi”. This is the waiting period, after which the court will give you the final divorce decree or the “decree absolute” automatically. This waiting period gives both spouses an opportunity to reconcile, file an appeal or inform the court if the other party has hidden any income or assets. Either spouse cannot remarry until the completion of this period.

In the case of an uncontested divorce, where there is a separation agreement, the judge must approve it first and this has a waiting period of an additional 30 days. In such cases, usually, the divorce is finalized in 120 days after both spouses appear before the judge.

 

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