How to File Divorce in Massachusetts

How to File Divorce in Massachusetts

The Boston Tea Party is one of the defining moments in the history of our country’s fight for independence, and if you want to file for divorce to regain your independence in Massachusetts here are the key divorce laws you need to know.  

You must be from here

Massachusetts courts cannot grant a divorce unless the couple has lived in Massachusetts and had their marriage break down in Massachusetts, or at least one spouse must have lived in the state for at least one year.  

Fault divorce still possible

No-fault divorce is a relatively new concept.

Until the 1970s, a spouse that wanted a divorce needed to prove that the other spouse did something wrong.  

In Massachusetts, most of these fault-based divorces are lost to history. Massachusetts still allows divorce on several fault grounds, though.This includes adultery, desertion, habits of intoxication, cruel and abusive treatment, nonsupport, impotency, and a prison sentence of more than five years.

Ugly divorces take longer

Massachusetts has recognized that many couples simply want to split up and go their separate ways without a fight.

In fact, many couples have very little to fight over.  In the last census, for example, the average net worth for a household led by people under age 35 is $6,676.  For 35 to 44-year-olds, the number was just $35,000. That means a huge number of couples will essentially just be splitting a checking account at divorce.  

Massachusetts tries to help these people with a process called an “uncontested” or “1A” divorce (it is in Section 1A of the relevant legal provisions).  

This is a no-fault divorce where the couple simply agrees that the marriage has suffered an “irretrievable breakdown.”  Each spouse just has to sign a petition swearing the marriage is broken, and then present the court with a signed separation agreement.  

This separation agreement must properly address the division of marital property, child custody, support, and maintenance.  

Getting to an agreement is not always easy, of course

Some couples will just split their checking account and go their separate ways. Others may need to involve third parties like a mediator or lawyers to work out an agreement.

The point is the court can quickly approve an agreement hammered out beyond the walls of the courtroom. This will typically be must faster and less costly overall than an ugly contested divorce.  

The contested divorce option is called the “1B” divorce

A 1B divorce occurs when a couple cannot come to an agreement on issues related to children and money. The process carries forward very much like any other court case. 

One party files a complaint and a financial statement.  If children are involved, separate worksheets related to custody and support must also be filled out. The other spouse then has to answer, and eventually, a judge will hold a hearing and rule on the split and contested issues.

This process by law cannot take less than six months from filing the complaint to the final hearing.

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