How Do I File for Divorce in Massachusetts

Wondering where to begin and how to file a divorce? Learn about the necessary forms and instructions to file for a divorce in Massachusetts.

If you live in Massachusetts and you want to do your own divorce, you may not know where to begin. This article provides an overview of the divorce process in Massachusetts, but if you have specific questions, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.

Some Key Points

As long as either spouse has lived in Massachusetts for at least one year before the divorce is started, the divorce can be handled in this state.

Massachusetts law provides three ways to begin a divorce:

  • the joint petition, commonly a no-fault “1A” divorce
  • the individual complaint, commonly called a no-fault “1B” divorce
  • the individual complaint that states that one spouse caused the divorce.

The court charges a fee to file (submit) the divorce petition or complaint. The state court website,www.mass.gov/courts, lists the fees under the self help tab in the probate and family court link. If you feel you can’t afford to pay the fee, fill in the “affidavit of indigency” form to ask to waive the fees. Submit it with your complaint or petition.

Getting Started

In a "joint petition," the couple agrees to a no-fault divorce. The petition states that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” This is means that both spouses agree that they cannot resolve their marital problems and neither spouse is at fault for their problems. Both spouses are called the petitioners. Whoever is listed first is “petitioner A” and the other spouse is “petitioner B.” Bear in mind that the final outcome of the divorce does not depend on whose name goes first.

A "1B divorce" is also a no-fault divorce. The spouse that fills out the 1B divorce complaint is the “plaintiff.” The other spouse is the “defendant.” The state court website at  www.mass.gov/courts  has fill-in forms for the 1A and 1B divorce. Go to the self help tab. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to the Probate and Family Court tab. Click on the forms tab.

The third way is to pursue a "fault divorce" where you'll have to identify specific “grounds” for the break up. Some of the more common grounds are adultery, intoxication or cruel and abusive treatment. A fault divorce requires the expertise of a Massachusetts family law attorney.

Filling Out the Forms

Both 1A and 1B forms ask for the date when the marriage became “irretrievably broken.” You can use the date either spouse moved out or the date you realized your marriage was over.

If either or both parties own real estate, the books and pages for all deeds are required as well. You can find this information on the original deed or at the county registry of deeds for the county where real estate is located. All Massachusetts registries can be searched on line for this information.

Include the following documents with your petition or complaint:

  • a completed certification of vital statistics, which is in forms section of the court website
  • a certified copy of your marriage certificate. You can obtain a certified copy from the city or town clerk where you were married. You can also obtain a certified copy from the Massachusetts secretary of state atwww.sec.state.ma.us.

Where to File the Forms

On the court website, click on the courts tab. At the “trial court and its departments” tab, go to the “probate and family court department.” Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you will see “divorce/paternity/family” section. Click on the “how/where do I file for divorce” tab for a list of towns and cities and their courts.

The Next Steps

Service on the Other Spouse

“Service” means how the other spouse is given a copy of the divorce petition. The law has specific rules on how this is to be done.

There is no need for service on a 1A divorce because both spouses sign the petition.

For a 1B divorce, when the plaintiff spouse files the divorce, the court clerk will return a copy of the complaint with a summons. When you mail or bring your complaint to the court, be sure to include the fee for the summons, which is in addition to the filing fee for the complaint. The plaintiff spouse may serve the complaint copy and the summons on the defendant spouse by one of the following:

  • using the county sheriff where the defendant lives or works. The sheriff will deliver the papers to the defendant and return proof that the defendant was served to the plaintiff. There is a fee for this service.
  • using a private constable. Go to  www.maconstables.com  for a Massachusetts constable who covers the county where the defendant lives or works. Like the sheriff, the constable will deliver the papers and provide the plaintiff with proof of service. There is a fee for this service.
  • Ask the defendant or the defendant’s attorney to accept service. There is a section on the summons for the defendant/defendant’s attorney to sign that he or she received a copy of the complaint.

The plaintiff must mail to the court the summons that shows how the defendant was served. Make sure to keep copies of everything you mail to the court. It is not unusual to go to court and find out your papers are not in the court’s file.

What if my spouse files for divorce?

If you receive a complaint for divorce, you should file an appearance to show that you want a voice in the divorce. The appearance form is in the “miscellaneous forms” section of the self help area on the court’s website. You can also file a response, which is called an answer, if the complaint contains incorrect statements or you want to ask for a final result different that what your spouse requested. You can file a counterclaim if you want to list different reasons for the divorce. There is a separate filing fee for the counterclaim. Unfortunately the court website does not contain forms for either the answer or the counterclaim.

Financial Disclosures

Each spouse should prepare a financial statement and exchange with the other spouse. Use the short form if you earn less than $75000. Otherwise use the long form. Have an up-to-date financial statement prepared whenever you have a hearing. Make sure you give the other spouse a copy and keep a copy for your records.

Parent Education

If there are children under 18 in the family when the divorce is filed, both parents must attend an approved parent education class within 60 days after the defendant has been served. The court website has more information about what courses are approved.

On-Line Help

In addition to the court website, the Massachusetts Legal Services has a number of self help brochures and sample forms. Go to  www.masslegalservices.org. Each Massachusetts county has a website as well which may provide further assistance.

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