Massachusetts Divorce Basics

Learn the basics about the divorce process in Massachusetts.

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Gavel and Scales

This article discusses the laws and rules related to getting a divorce in Massachusetts. The same laws apply to same-sex married couples who wish to dissolve their relationship.

Grounds for Divorce

In Massachusetts, you can file for divorce if your marriage is irretrievably broken, meaning there is no chance of reconciliation between you and your spouse. You may also file for divorce based on fault, meaning that the divorce is based on one spouse's actions, such as adultery, alcohol or drug addiction, neglect, or cruelty.

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period

To file for divorce in Massachusetts, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state, and the complaint for divorce must be filed in the county where you or your spouse live. The earliest a judge can enter a judgment for divorce is six months after the complaint is filed. 

Property Division 

Massachusetts uses a system of equitable distribution to divide marital property and debts between spouses. Marital property includes each spouse's income and all personal and real property acquired during the marriage. The judge may consider several factors to determine how to fairly divide the property including the length of the marriage, each spouse's age, health, income, occupation, and future needs, and the spouses' conduct during the marriage. The judge may also consider each spouse's contributions to buying or improving a house or acting as a homemaker. Any income earned or property acquired by either spouses before the marriage is separate property and is not subject to division by the court.  

Alimony

Massachusetts courts may order either spouse to pay alimony. To determine the amount, the court will consider the length of the marriage, each spouse's income, skills, and employment opportunities, and each spouse's current obligations (debts) and current and potential financial needs. The court may also order one spouse to temporarily pay for the other spouse's health insurance. To modify an alimony award, either spouse must show a substantial change in circumstances.

Child Support

Parents have a duty to financially support their child until the child reaches age 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. Massachusetts courts use a formula to calculate child support, but may deviate from that amount if it is in the child's best interest. The court may also make a support order for health insurance, childcare costs, medical expenses, or college expenses. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue enforces child support obligations, and you can estimate your support payment here. You must show a change in circumstances to modify a child support order.   

Child Custody

The court makes decisions about legal and physical custody of a child according to the best interests of the child. In doing so, the court will evaluate the wishes of the parents and child, the child's mental, physical, and emotional health, the child's adjustment to home and school, and the history of the child's relationship with each parent. Judges will also take into consideration the parents' proposed parenting plan if they have one, and will generally approve agreements between parents relating to custody and visitation. The court will use the same best interest standard to determine whether custody and visitation should be modified.

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