Massachusetts Family Law and the Divorce Process

Massachusetts family law covers the divorce process, which begins when one of the spouses actually files a legal petition, or “complaint,” which advises the court he, or she, wishes to end the marriage, and this petition is  “served” on the other spouse.

Legal requirements for divorce in Massachusetts (MA) can be found in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, sections 1-5 and 21, and include “residency requirements,” such as:

  • “Spouses must have lived together in MA as husband and wife,”
  • The plaintiff (the person petitioning) “must have lived in MA at least one year,
  • The actions/inactions that have brought about this divorce action must have occurred in MA, and
  • If the causal actions/inactions happened in another state, the spouses must have “lived together in MA,” and at least one spouse has to be an MA resident.

Because Massachusetts is a state which allows “no-fault” divorce, the petitioner (plaintiff) must merely attest that there has been “an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” In other words, the plaintiff believes there is “no chance of reconciliation.”  Other “grounds for divorce” are: 1) adultery, 2) the spouse has been away from the household for one year (desertion), 3) drug and alcohol problems, 4) inability to conceive, 5) nonsupport, 6) being sentenced to prison “for at least 5 years” after a criminal conviction, and 7) a long absence (leading to “presumption of death”).

In Massachusetts, the divorce petition itself will include “identification of the children, the grounds for the divorce and a statement as to how the petitioner would like to settle finances, property division, child custody and visitation.”

This petition also requests that the court draft “temporary orders” while the divorce is in process.  These orders respond to questions like, “Which spouse will have primary (physical) custody of the children?;” What days/hours will comprise child visitation for the other spouse?; How will child and spousal support be allocated?; Which spouse will remain in what had been the “primary residence?;” How will household/medical/children’s bills be paid?

Once the other spouse (respondent or defendant) has been “legally served”(received the divorce petition), he or she must answer “the allegations within the petition” by “stating agreement or disagreement” and his/her “position on the filing spouse’s proposals.” This is the defendant’s initial opportunity to accept or rebuff the plaintiff’s wishes regarding “child custody, property division and support.”

A Massachusetts divorce affecting only two parties who are in general agreement may be straightforward. However, when children and conflicts regarding homes, property and support are at stake, an attorney experienced in Massachusetts family law is a necessity.