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How to file for a divorce in Massachusetts

The term “divorce” in Massachusetts describes a legal process that ends the bond of matrimony between two people before the death of either spouse. The legal term for it by state laws is “divorce from the bond of matrimony”, or dissolution. Chapter 208 of the state laws of Massachusetts gives interpretation and regulations to divorce cases in the state. Anyone seeking to file for a divorce in Massachusetts must have a good understanding of the law in order to get the best outcome possible. In 2018, the state reported divorce statistics under the US Census Bureau to be 7.5 per 1000 women of the ages 15 years and above. Ranking position 30, Massachusetts divorce rating falls by 0.2 below the national average. Also, when compared with the rating as of 2008, there has been a 1.3 per 1000 drop in the rate of divorce in the state over the last ten years.

Do I need a reason for divorce in Massachusetts?

By the federal laws of the United States, all states are under a mandate to accept no-fault grounds for divorce. Massachusetts in addition provides statutory grounds for divorce in the state besides an irretrievable breakdown of marriage, which is the statement of a no-fault divorce. Some of these statutory grounds are:

  • Extramarital affairs such as adultery
  • Impotency
  • Complete abandonment for at least one year prior to filing a petition
  • Habitual intoxication with alcohol or drugs
  • Domestic abuse
  • Gross neglect of marital responsibility
  • Imprisonment of one party for five years and above

Insufficient grounds for divorce occur if the court where the case was filed does not have jurisdiction over the case. For a court to have jurisdiction, the filing party or respondent must have been resident in this state at some point in time. Their ability to prove that the default grounds for divorce occurred during their stay in Massachusetts strengthens the jurisdiction of the court over that case. When filing for a divorce in Massachusetts, the plaintiff must show this clearly, otherwise the respondents or receiving party can file to get the case dismissed from court. Also, if there is evidence that the plaintiff moved into Massachusetts solely for the purpose of filing a divorce, the court can dismiss the case.

Why do I need a divorce lawyer?

Divorcing parties in Massachusetts, have the right to self represent in the court of law. However, it is in the interest of the divorcing party to get the most favorable outcome possible from a settlement of adjoining matters to a divorce case. Some of these adjoining matters include child custody, spousal support, assets division, an allocation of liabilities, etc. These aspects of a divorce case require experience and a clear understanding of the laws. This is where a divorce lawyer may come in to assist. Their legal advice and service can go a long way to promoting a smooth progression of the case to an eventual finalization.

How do I get started in a divorce in Massachusetts?

Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts handle divorce cases. There are two ways to file for a no-contest divorce:

  • If it is on a no-fault ground (1A), that is, irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, one party must file the following with the court of jurisdiction:
  • A jointly signed petition by both parties or their representing attorneys
  • A joint or individual affidavit from both parties stating clearly that an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage exists
  • A notarized copy of a separation agreement by both parties.

Here, there is no need for a summons. Within 30 days from filing, the court investigates if the marriage is indeed irretrievably broken. All the terms of settlement are proper and in line with state laws and in the interest of both persons. After 30 days, the court enters a judgment of divorce nisi. A divorce nisi is a divorce decree unless otherwise proven.

  • A second no-fault divorce requires the submission of a record of absolute divorce, complaint for divorce, copy of the marriage certificate. The court issues a summons to the complainants to serve the receiving party. The law states recommendations to hire someone to perform the service of process. Process service must return with evidence of successful service within 90 days of filing. Both parties will complete the financial statement and those with children under 18 years must fill out an affidavit of child custody and support guidelines worksheet. Both parties must share financial information between themselves in order to have a better understanding in coming to an agreement.

If there are disagreements as seen in a contested divorce, the court arranges a pretrial hearing. There is a six month waiting period after the pretrial during which both parties should agree. If all fails, a trial will hold.

How to file for divorce in Massachusetts without a lawyer?

Filers for a divorce may choose a pro se litigation approach. It is cheaper than getting expert services. No-fault divorces rarely require the services of a lawyer because both parties have arrived at agreement amicably. Be sure to take all the necessary legal steps correctly if opting for self-representation.

How does Massachusetts divorce mediation work?

Mediation in Massachusetts is an alternative dispute resolution process that divorcing parties can opt for to resolve disputes. It is informal, confidential and time-saving. Attending a session can be voluntary, or by court order. The former is achievable by getting the services of a private mediator, while the latter is a court-connected alternative dispute resolution program. Invariably, the goal of a mediation process in Massachusetts is to encourage both parties to come to a place of agreement without external recommendations or orders. The resulting agreements have an equal legal weight as a court judgement, when approved by the judge. Also, parties cannot appeal to review agreements arising from a mediation process. The law of the state recognizes the role of mediation and advocates for it rather than a full trial.

How long after mediation is divorce final in Massachusetts?

A divorce becomes final 90 days after the judge signs the divorce decree (divorce nisi). Mediation processes, especially those mandated by the court may extend this timeframe in contested divorce cases. if a mediation results in the restoration of the marriage, the parties can file to dismiss the case in court.

Are divorce records public in Massachusetts?

The Public Records Law of the state grants members of the public access to divorce records to the extent that the contained information is public. It means that sections of a record that the federal and state laws define as private are not available to the members of the public. Inclusive of them are data belonging to minors involved in the case, adoption information, statements of domestic abuse, and witness accounts.

How do I get Massachusetts divorce records?

The Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts create and maintain divorce records. To begin, down and complete the Request for Copies Form. Either submit in person to the relevant courthouse office, or by mail. Use the court location page to get the relevant address. Certified copies are accessible only to the persons listed in the record, or their legal representatives. Certified copy requests require the docket number. It costs $20 to get a copy of a divorce absolute, and $20 for the first page of a divorce nisi ($1 per subsequent page). Payments are acceptable only money orders and official checks made out to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Personal checks are not acceptable. To get a historical divorce record, visit the Court Archives for more information.

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