Massachusetts Divorce Laws and Guidelines

Massachusetts state has its own unique set of divorce laws, which can be complex and nuanced. Understanding these laws is crucial for anyone going through a divorce in MA.

If you are getting into a divorce in Massachusetts, it is beneficial to be knowledgeable about the divorce laws. Whether you decide to hire an MA family attorney or handle the divorce yourself, you will need to make important decisions and should be aware of what to anticipate.

The courts in MA will consider various factors in the divorce settlement, including property division, spousal support, and child custody and support. Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally.

In this article, we will take a comprehensive dive into everything you need to know about Massachusetts divorce laws and guidelines, so you make your best decision while you move along.

Types of Divorce in MA

In Massachusetts, there are two types of divorce options available:

1. Fault-Based Divorce: This type of divorce is based on specific grounds that one spouse has committed, such as adultery, cruel and abusive treatment, or abandonment. The spouse who is seeking a fault-based divorce must prove that their spouse’s behavior was the cause of the breakdown of the marriage.

2. No-Fault Divorce: This type of divorce is the most common in Massachusetts. It does not require the spouse seeking the divorce to prove that the other spouse was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, the grounds for the divorce are irreconcilable differences or an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

No-fault divorces in Massachusetts can be either contested or uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree to the divorce and any related issues, such as property division, child custody, and support. In a contested divorce, the spouses cannot agree on one or more issues, and the court may need to intervene to resolve them.

Uncontested Divorce in MA

To file for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts, both spouses must agree on all aspects of the divorce, such as division of assets, spousal support, child custody, and child support.

The spouses must submit a signed separation agreement, which the MA court will review. If approved, the spouses will attend a final hearing, where a judge will ensure that both parties understand and agree to the terms. If satisfied, the family court judge will issue a final divorce decree.

Divorce rate in Massachusetts

The divorce rate in Massachusetts has fluctuated over time, but it is generally lower than the national average. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate in Massachusetts was 2.4 per 1,000 population in 2019, which is lower than the national rate of 2.7 per 1,000 population.

There are many factors that can contribute to the divorce rate in Massachusetts, including cultural and economic factors, as well as changes in family structures and social norms. Some studies have suggested that the relatively high cost of living in Massachusetts may contribute to lower divorce rates, as couples may be more likely to stay together due to financial considerations.

How to File for Divorce in MA

Filing for divorce in Massachusetts State can be a complicated process, involving various legal requirements and procedures. In general, the process involves filing the necessary paperwork with the MA family court, serving the other spouse with the divorce papers, and attending court hearings as required. The specific steps involved can vary depending on the type of divorce, whether it is contested or uncontested, and other factors.

Divorce Process in Massachusetts

The following are the general steps to file for divorce in Massachusetts:

  1. Determine eligibility: In order to file for divorce in Massachusetts, you must be a resident of the state for at least one year, or if the reason for divorce occurred in Massachusetts, you must be a resident at the time of filing.
  2. Choose your grounds for divorce: Massachusetts allows for both fault-based and no-fault divorces. You will need to decide which grounds you will use for your divorce.
  3. File the Complaint for Divorce: You will need to complete and file a Complaint for Divorce with the Probate and Family Court in the county where you or your spouse resides. The court will charge a filing fee, which varies by county.
  4. Serve your spouse: You must legally serve your spouse with the Complaint for Divorce, along with a summons and other relevant documents. This can be done by a sheriff or constable, or by certified mail.
  5. Negotiate and settle issues: You and your spouse will need to negotiate and settle any issues related to the divorce, including child custody, child support, MA alimony, and property division. You may need to attend mediation or a pre-trial conference to reach a settlement.
  6. Attend court hearing: If you and your spouse are unable to reach a settlement, a court hearing will be scheduled. At the hearing, a judge will make a final decision on any unresolved issues.
  7. Finalize the divorce: Once all issues are settled, you will need to file a Separation Agreement and a Joint Petition for Divorce with the court. If approved, the court will issue a Judgment of Divorce, finalizing the divorce.

Online Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, online divorce is not available as an official legal option. While there are websites and companies that claim to offer online divorce services, they are not recognized by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court.

While it is possible to access and download some of the necessary divorce forms online, it is important to note that completing the forms accurately and appropriately can be complex and require legal knowledge. Mistakes or omissions in the forms can delay or complicate the divorce process.

Click here for our comprehensive article about online divorce.

Cost of Divorce in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the cost of divorce can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the type of divorce being pursued, and the fees charged by attorneys and the court.

The average cost of divorce in Massachusetts is between $12,500 and $15,000. This includes attorney fees, court fees, and other expenses such as expert witness fees and costs associated with property division.

In some cases, uncontested divorces with no significant assets or children involved may be less expensive, while high-conflict, contested divorces with complex property division and custody issues may be more expensive.

Divorce Papers and Forms MA

Massachusetts requires various forms and papers to be filed in order to initiate and complete a divorce. These papers and forms can vary depending on the circumstances of the divorce, such as whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, whether children are involved, and the assets and debts of the couple.

Some of the most common forms required in an Massachusetts State divorce include a Summons with Notice or Summons and Complaint, a Verified Complaint, Affidavit of Service, and a Judgment of Divorce.

Grounds for Divorce in MA

In Massachusetts, there are several grounds for divorce that can be used to initiate legal proceedings. These grounds can vary from fault-based to no-fault, and they may have a significant impact on the outcome of the divorce settlement. Here is a list of the grounds for divorce in Massachusetts:

  1. Adultery: One spouse has engaged in extramarital affairs.
  2. Desertion: One spouse has abandoned the other for at least one year.
  3. Cruel and abusive treatment: One spouse has physically or emotionally abused the other.
  4. Impotency: One spouse is physically incapable of engaging in sexual relations.
  5. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage: No specific fault needs to be proven, but the marriage has irretrievably broken down and there is no possibility of reconciliation.
  6. Living apart: The spouses have lived apart for at least 18 months and there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.

Fault-based grounds for divorce may have an impact on issues such as alimony and property division. Working with a qualified attorney can help you navigate the legal process and ensure that your interests are protected.

Requirement and Waiting Period

In Massachusetts, there are certain requirements and waiting periods that must be met before a divorce can be granted. These requirements may vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case.

While the waiting period is a mandatory 120 days after filing a Complaint for Divorce, the requirements for divorce in Massachusetts are:

  1. At least one spouse must have lived in Massachusetts for at least one year prior to filing.
  2. If the grounds for divorce occurred within the state, residency is not required.
  3. A Complaint for Divorce must be filed with the court.
  4. There is a mandatory waiting period of 120 days before the divorce can be finalized.
  5. The parties must resolve any outstanding issues, such as property division and child custody, before the divorce can be finalized.
  6. If the divorce is contested, the divorce may take longer to finalize.

How a MA Judge Will Divide Marital Property

In MA, marital property division is determined by a process known as equitable distribution. This means that the court will divide the marital property in a manner that is deemed fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal.

When making decisions about property division, the court will consider a number of factors, including:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. The age, health, and income of each spouse
  3. Each spouse’s contributions to the marital estate, including both financial and non-financial contributions
  4. The value of the property involved
  5. Each spouse’s employability and earning capacity
  6. The needs of any dependent children
  7. Any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements

Property division may be impacted by the grounds for divorce. For example, if one spouse was found to be at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, this may impact the property division settlement.

Basics of Massachusetts Divorce

While we have discussed major points about MA divorce, there are still some other basics that you need to know when it comes to divorce in Massachusetts. Here are some of them:

Child Custody in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child. The court will consider a number of factors when making decisions about child custody, including:

  1. The child’s age, health, and emotional well-being
  2. Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs
  3. Each parent’s ability to co-parent and communicate effectively
  4. The child’s relationship with each parent
  5. The child’s preference, if they are old enough to express a preference

There are two types of custody in Massachusetts: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, such as decisions about their education and medical care. Physical custody refers to where the child will live and spend their time.

In some cases, the court may award joint custody, which means that both parents share legal and physical custody. However, in cases where there are concerns about the child’s safety or well-being, the court may award sole custody to one parent.

Divorce in MA Without Spouse Signature

In MA, if one spouse wants a divorce and the other spouse does not want to sign the divorce papers, the process can still move forward. The spouse seeking the divorce can file a Summons with Notice or a Summons and Verified Complaint with the court, which the other spouse will be served with.

If the other spouse fails to respond to the court within a certain period of time, the MA court may enter a default judgment in favor of the spouse seeking the divorce. However, if the other spouse contests the divorce, the court may require a trial to determine the grounds for divorce and any related issues such as property division and child custody.

MA Child Support Guidelines

The Massachusetts guidelines on child support are based on the income of both parents, the number of children involved, and the parenting time arrangement. The state uses a formula to determine the amount of child support that the non-custodial parent (the parent who has less parenting time) must pay to the custodial parent (the parent who has more parenting time).

The formula takes into account the gross income of both parents, as well as certain deductions, such as taxes, health insurance, and child care costs. The guidelines are intended to ensure that children receive the financial support they need, while also taking into account the financial resources of both parents.

In addition to the basic  MA child support obligation, parents may also be responsible for additional expenses, such as educational costs or extracurricular activities. These expenses are typically divided between the parents based on their respective incomes.

Divorce Records in MA

In Massachusetts, divorce records are considered public records and are available to the public. These records are maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and they include information such as the names of the parties involved, the date of the divorce, and the reason for the divorce.

In order to obtain a copy of a divorce record, individuals can submit a request to the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. There is a fee for this service, and individuals must provide valid identification and proof of their relationship to one of the parties involved in the divorce.

How to Hire a Divorce Attorney in MA

Hiring a divorce lawyer in Massachusetts can be a crucial decision for individuals going through a divorce. A divorce lawyer can provide legal advice and representation throughout the divorce process, ensuring that the individual’s rights and interests are protected.

When hiring a divorce lawyer in MA, you need to consider their experience, qualifications, and reputation. It is recommended to choose a lawyer who specializes in family law and has experience handling divorce cases similar to your own.

The cost of hiring a divorce lawyer in Massachusetts can vary depending on the lawyer’s experience and the complexity of the case. Some lawyers charge a flat fee for their services, while others charge an hourly rate. It is important to discuss the lawyer’s fees and payment options upfront to avoid any surprises later on.


Divorce in MA; Who Gets What?

In Massachusetts, the property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally between spouses during a divorce based on the principle of equitable distribution. Marital property acquired during the marriage is subject to division, while some assets such as those acquired before the marriage or through inheritance or gifts may be exempt. The court will make a determination if the parties cannot agree on the division of property.

What is a Wife Entitled to in a Divorce in MA?

In a divorce in Massachusetts, a wife is entitled to a fair distribution of marital property acquired during the marriage and may also receive spousal support if she demonstrates financial need and if the court determines the other spouse has the ability to pay.

Divorce in MA with Child; How does it Work?

In an Massachusetts divorce with a child, the court considers the best interests of the child when making decisions about custody and support. Joint or sole custody may be awarded, and child support is determined based on a formula that considers each parent’s income and the child’s needs. A divorce lawyer can provide guidance and help ensure a fair outcome for the child.

How Long does it take to get a Divorce in MA?

The time it takes to get a divorce in Massachusetts varies depending on whether it is contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce can be finalized in several months, while a contested divorce can take years. There is a mandatory waiting period of at least six months. It’s important to work with a divorce lawyer to ensure your rights are protected throughout the process.


Massachusetts divorce laws and guidelines are intricate and have a wide range of matters to be addressed. It is vital to have a good understanding of these laws in order to make informed decisions and ensure a fair outcome. By understanding these MA divorce laws, individuals can better prepare themselves for the process and take the necessary steps to protect their rights and interests.

Massachusetts Resource

- Massachusetts Child Adoption Guidelines
- Massachusetts Child Custody and Visitation Guidelines
- Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines
- Massachusetts Divorce Guidelines
  - Cost of Divorce in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Marital Property Guidelines
- Massachusetts Spousal Support Guidelines
- How to Check Massachusetts Child Support Payment History
- Massachusetts Child Support Calculator

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

As a proud single mom who has seen it all, I encourage others by sharing my experiences & curating content on divorce, adoption, child & spousal support. My passion also includes spending quality time with my kids and giving back to my community.

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