How Do I File for Divorce in Massachusetts?

Learn about the forms and procedures necessary to file for divorce in Massachusetts.

If you live in Massachusetts and you want to file 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.

Massachusetts Petitions for Divorce

Before the court in Massachusetts can accept your case, you will need to demonstrate that at least one spouse has lived in the state for no less than one year before filing the divorce paperwork.

Massachusetts law provides three ways to begin a divorce:

  • the joint or uncontested petition, commonly a no-fault "1A" divorce
  • the individual complaint often called a no-fault "1B" divorce, or
  • the individual complaint that states that one spouse caused the divorce.

You will need to pay a filing fee to submit your divorce complaint or petition. You can find a list of the costs on the Massachusetts court website. If you feel like you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive the fees by filling out the affidavit of indigency. You will need to submit the affidavit with your divorce complaint. The court will review your application and will advise you whether or not you need to pay fees.

Getting Started

In a joint petition, the couple agrees to an uncontested no-fault divorce. The petition states that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means both spouses agree that they can't resolve their marital problems, and neither spouse is at fault for the divorce. Both parties agree on how to divide marital property, calculate child support and alimony, and decide all child custody-related issues.

Both spouses are the petitioners on the paperwork. 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. (MA Gen L Ch 208 § 1A (2018).)

A "1B divorce" is also a no-fault divorce, but it's contested, meaning the spouses both believe that the marriage is over, but they have a disagreement on some issues, such as property division, custody, or support. The spouse that fills out the 1B divorce complaint is the "plaintiff." The other spouse is the "defendant." The state court website has fill-in forms for both the 1A and 1B divorces. (MA Gen L Ch 208 § 1B (2018).)

The third way to file for divorce 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. (MA Gen L Ch 208 § 1 (2018).)

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.

Include the following documents with your petition or complaint:

  • completed certification of vital statistics, and
  • a certified copy of your marriage certificate. You can obtain a certified copy from the city or town clerk where you were married. If you were married in Massachusetts, you can get a copy from the registry of vital records.

If you have minor children, you will also need to include the following:

  • a certificate that you attended the parent education program (unless the court approves a waiver)
  • an affidavit of care and custody, and
  • the child support guidelines worksheet.

Where to File the Forms

You should file your complaint for divorce in the town where you live. You can find local court locations by entering your address on this page.

Serving Your Forms

"Service" means how you deliver the divorce petition to your spouse. The law has specific rules on service, and if you don't meet guidelines, the judge could delay your case.

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 petition, the court clerk will return a copy of the complaint with a summons (this requires an additional fee.) The plaintiff spouse may serve the summons and complaint on the defendant spouse by one of the following:

  • delivering the documents to the defendant's attorney (if applicable)
  • hiring a county sheriff (for a fee) where the defendant lives or works to deliver the papers and return proof of delivery to the court
  • retain (for a fee) a private constable, who, like the sheriff, will deliver the papers and provide the plaintiff with proof of service, or
  • 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 acknowledge receipt of the complaint.

The plaintiff must mail proof of service to the court (or ensure the process server does it for you.) Make sure to keep copies of everything you send to the court. It is not unusual to go to court and find out your papers are not in the court's file.

If you receive a complaint for divorce, you should file an appearance to show that you plan to take part in the process. Be sure to review the summons carefully for the deadline to respond.

You should also file a written response, which the court calls an "answer." An answer is the only way for you to tell the court if the complaint contains incorrect statements or you want to ask for a final result different from what your spouse requested. You can also file a counterclaim if you're going to list different reasons for the divorce. There is a separate filing fee for the counterclaim.

Financial Disclosures

Each spouse should prepare a financial statement and exchange it with the other spouse. Use the short form if you earn less than $75,000. Otherwise use the long form. You will need an up-to-date financial statement prepared whenever you have a court 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 you file for divorce, both parents must attend an approved parent education class within 60 days after the defendant receives the summons and complaint.

If you have specific questions, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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