Divorce in Massachusetts - Your Go-To Guide- Worthy
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Divorce in Massachusetts: Your Go-To Guide

Last updated: August 05, 2018
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If you are thinking of divorcing in Massachusetts, you’ll find that the process is far easier to navigate when you are well-informed from the get go. Knowing the various processes, criteria for filing and other details can make a world of difference in this stressful process. This informative guide will help you learn the ground rules so let’s jump in.

The Massachusetts Divorce Process: How to File for Divorce in MA

To divorce in Massachusetts, you and your spouse must have lived in the state for one year. Alternatively, the reason for the marriage’s end may have happened in MA while you and your spouse lived in the state as a couple.

Massachusetts divorces may be “fault” or “no fault” and both types may be contested or uncontested.

In a contested divorce, one person disagrees with the terms of the proposed settlement. In an uncontested divorce, both parties are in agreement.

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What are the grounds for divorce in MA?

In addition to the “no fault” or “Irretrievable Breakdown” of a marriage, there are seven grounds for divorce in Massachusetts.

  • 1A Divorce: A Massachusetts 1A Divorce involves irretrievable breakdown. This type of divorce occurs when both parties have reached a written agreement about the division of marital assets, child custody and parenting time, and child support. It is also known as an uncontested no-fault divorce.
  • 1B Divorce: In MA, 1B Divorce involves an irretrievable breakdown of marriage, but spouses are not able to come to an agreement about the division of marital assets, child custody and parenting time, and/or child support. It is known as a contested no-fault divorce. If the parties are able to come to an agreement, the filing may be changed to a 1A Divorce.
  • Adultery
  • Desertion for one year
  • Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication with drugs or alcohol
  • Cruel and abusive treatment
  • Non-support of a dependent spouse
  • Impotency
  • A conviction with a prison sentence of 5 years or longer

Three Ways to File for Divorce in MA

There are three ways to file for divorce in Massachusetts. Before beginning the process, parties should be aware that the process of filing a fault divorce is typically more expensive and more time-consuming than the process of filing a no-fault (1A or 1B) divorce. As elsewhere, MA contested divorces tend to take longer than uncontested divorces.

No Fault 1A Divorce Proceedings

Filing for a no-fault 1A divorce is simplest.

  • Write a separation agreement outlining property division, spousal and/or child support, child custody, and visitation, division of debt, and any other relevant issues.
  • Both spouses should sign the agreement and have it notarized.
  • File the following documents with the Registry office at your local Probate and Family Court:
    • Certified copy of the marriage certificate
    • Separation agreement
    • Joint petition for 1A Divorce (CJD-101A)
    • Joint affidavit of irretrievable breakdown signed by both spouses
    • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408)
    • Both spouses should complete and file a Financial Statement
    • If annual income is under $75,000 before taxes, file the short financial form
    • If annual income is $75,000 or over before taxes, file the long financial form
    • Couples with children under 18 must attend a parent education program and prepare the following forms:
    • OCAJ-1 – Affidavit of Care and Custody
    • CJD-304 – Child Support Guidelines Worksheet

After the filing process and any other required procedures are complete, a hearing date will be set. Both spouses must attend unless the court grants an attendance waiver. The judge will determine whether an irretrievable breakdown has indeed occurred, and will then accept the separation agreement. A 30-day period separates the date that the judge accepts the divorce and the date that the “divorce judgment nisi” is entered. The divorce judgment nisi is a 90-day period that ensures both parties were truthful in revealing details of their finances and property, as well as a chance for parties to change their minds about divorcing. So long as nothing changes, the divorce is final 90 days from the date of the divorce judgment nisi, or 120 days from the date of the judge’s approval of the separation agreement.

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No Fault 1B Divorce Proceedings

To file a Massachusetts no-fault 1B divorce, spouses must take the following steps:

  • File the following documents with the Registry office at your local Probate and Family Court:
    • Certified copy of your marriage certificate
    • Complaint for Divorce under section 1B (CJD-101B)
    • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408)
  • The court will provide the complainant with a summons, which is then served on the other spouse (also known as the defendant) along with the Complaint for Divorce (CJD-101B) and a tracking order.
    • The defendant must be served within 90 days of the complainant’s filing
    • The state of Massachusetts recommends that complainants hire a sheriff or constable to serve the defendant. Once service is complete, a Return of Service will be filled out and filed with the court. In some cases, the complainant must file the Return of Service; in others, the sheriff or constable will handle the task. If the defendant is willing to accept service directly from the complainant, he or she should accompany the complainant to a notary public and sign the summons where it says “Acceptance of Service.” The complainant must then file the return of service with the Probate and Family court.
    • If the defendant does not live or work in Massachusetts, the complainant must find someone in the defendant’s home state who can serve the summons and complaint. The local court Registrar may be able to provide useful details.
    • If the defendant cannot be located, the complainant must file a Motion for Alternative Service. If it is accepted by the judge, the complainant will be granted permission to publish a notice in a specific newspaper’s legal notices department. The wording for the notice will be provided by the court. After publication, the complainant must obtain a copy of the newspaper containing the notice and file it with the court.
  • Both spouses should complete and file a Financial Statement
    • If annual income is under $75,000 before taxes, file the short financial form.
    • If annual income is $75,000 or over before taxes, file the long financial form.
  • Couples with children under 18 must attend a parent education program and prepare the following forms:
    • OCAJ-1 – Affidavit of Care and Custody
    • CJD-304 – Child Support Guidelines Worksheet

After the defendant files his or her answer, both parties must exchange financial statements and compose a separation agreement. Because parties may not be able to agree on issues surrounding the case, a mediator may be used; additionally. Parties may have their lawyers act on their behalf.

When contested issues persist, a pre-trial hearing will take place. Both parties must have their lawyers submit pre-trial memorandums in accordance with guidelines laid out in MA divorce laws. Parties will also need to determine whether they plan to call any witnesses during the trial itself.

If parties are able to reach an agreement, then the following should be filed:

  • Notarized, signed separation agreement
  • Parent education certificate (if applicable)
  • Financial statements from both parties

A six-month waiting period will separate the date of filing these documents and the hearing unless parties are able to obtain a waiver from the court.

If parties are not able to reach an agreement, a trial will take place. The judge will take all issues into account and deliver a final decision. Once he or she enters the judgment, a 90-day waiting period goes into effect, after which the divorce is final.

MA Fault Divorce Proceedings

When a filing a fault divorce in MA, the person who is asking for the divorce (complainant) must provide the court with proof of the grounds for divorce.

  • File the following documents with the Registry office at your local Probate and Family Court:
    • Certified copy of your marriage certificate
    • Complaint for Divorce under section 1B (CJD-101B)
    • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408)
  • The court will provide the complainant with a summons, which is then served on the other spouse (also known as the defendant) along with the Complaint for Divorce (CJD-101B) and a tracking order.
    • The defendant must be served within 90 days of the complainant’s filing
    • The state of Massachusetts recommends that complainants hire a sheriff or constable to serve the defendant. Once service is complete, a Return of Service will be filled out and filed with the court. In some cases, the complainant must file the Return of Service; in others, the sheriff or constable will handle the task.
    • If the defendant is willing to accept service directly from the complainant, he or she should accompany the complainant to a notary public and sign the summons where it says “Acceptance of Service.” The complainant must then file the return of service with the Probate and Family court.
    • If the defendant does not live or work in Massachusetts, the complainant must find someone in the defendant’s home state who can serve the summons and complaint. The local court Registrar may be able to provide useful details.
    • If the defendant cannot be located, the complainant must file a Motion for Alternative Service. If it is accepted by the judge, the complainant will be granted permission to publish a notice in a specific newspaper’s legal notices department. The wording for the notice will be provided by the court. After publication, the complainant must obtain a copy of the newspaper containing the notice and file it with the court.
  • Both spouses should complete and file a Financial Statement
    • If annual income is under $75,000 before taxes, file the short financial form
    • If annual income is $75,000 or over before taxes, file the long financial form
  • Couples with children under 18 must attend a parent education program and prepare the following forms:
    • OCAJ-1 – Affidavit of Care and Custody
    • CJD-304 – Child Support Guidelines Worksheet

Contested issues often arise in fault divorce cases. When this happens, arrangements will be made for a pre-trial hearing. The parties or their lawyers must file pre-trial memorandums and decide if any witnesses will be called.

If parties are able to reach an agreement, then the following should be filed:

  • Notarized, signed separation agreement
  • Parent education certificate (if applicable)

  • Financial statements from both parties

A six-month waiting period will separate the date of filing these documents and the hearing unless parties are able to obtain a waiver from the court.

If parties are not able to reach an agreement, a trial will take place, and the complainant will have the opportunity to prove his or her case. The judge will take all evidence and other issues into account and deliver a final decision. Once he or she enters the judgment, a 90-day waiting period goes into effect, after which the divorce is final.

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How Long Does a Divorce Take in MA?

The simplest divorce, an uncontested, no-fault or 1A divorce, is final 120 days from the date of the judge’s approval of the separation agreement. Because contested and fault divorces typically go to trial, they take longer. In some of the most complicated cases, MA divorce proceedings can take more than a year to come to a conclusion.

What is the cost of divorce in MA?

While the total cost of divorce may be in the thousands, the cost to file a Massachusetts divorce is $200. The court may assign additional costs and surcharges.

Massachusetts Divorce Statistics

United States divorce rates average 40 to 50 percent in any given year. Massachusetts divorce statistics are similar to nationwide stats; approximately 47 percent of the state’s marriages end in divorce. This has risen dramatically since 1960 when the state enjoyed a low divorce rate of just 17 percent.

Divorce Lawyers in Massachusetts

Although you can choose to represent yourself in your divorce, divorce professionals recommend that you secure legal counsel before getting divorced in Massachusetts. Marriage dissolution is often a complicated process, and you want to have the best legal counsel possible to advocate for your best interests. Without a skilled lawyer, you are apt to make mistakes or miss pertinent details, potentially resulting in your divorce taking longer to complete and costing you far more in legal fees and unaddressed issues.

Checklist of resources you may need when divorcing in MA

Sometimes it takes a village to navigate the divorce process. Thankfully, there exist trained professionals who can guide you through it safely and efficiently. If you are looking to build your dream divorce team or add to it, we have compiled a list of our favorite experts from which you can pick and choose according to your needs. Your Massachusetts divorce team may include any combination of the following individuals or websites:

Focus Area Organization Website
Divorced Professionals National Association of Divorced Professionals (NAPD) TheNADP.com
Divorce Coach Certified Divorced Coaches (CDC) CertifiedDivorceCoach.com
Financial Planners Association of Divorce Financial Planners(ADFP) DivorceAndFinance.org
Lawyer Avvo Avvo.com
Online Resource DivorceForce DivorceForce.com

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Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. Consult with an attorney for more information regarding your individual situation.