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Divorce in Massachusetts: 5 Things You Need to Know to Get Started

There are five questions you will need to answer to get started with a divorce in Massachusetts:
1. CAN you file for divorce in Massachusetts?
2. WHY are you getting divorced?
3. HOW will you get divorced?
4. WHO can help you get divorced?
5. WHERE will you get divorced?

We answer each of these questions below:

1. CAN you file for divorce in Massachusetts?

If you have been a resident of Massachusetts for one year then you can file for divorce in Massachusetts. Even if you have not been a resident for one year, you still may be able to file for divorce in Massachusetts but it may be complicated to determine.

We created an infographic to clarify the confusing question of jurisdiction over a divorce case in Massachusetts by consolidating the statutes and case law into one chart available here: Can I file for divorce in Massachusetts? An Infographic.

Just because you can file for divorce in Massachusetts, however, does not necessarily mean the court has jurisdiction over all issues in your case, as we explain in greater detail here: Can I be sued for Divorce in Massachusetts if I don't live there but my spouse does?. If your case involves residency, property, or children living in multiple states, you should definitely consult with an attorney because these issues can present complicated determinations and possibly multiple court cases.

If you have determined that you can file in Massachusetts, you now have to answer:

2. WHY are you getting divorced?

There are three different statutes in Massachusetts that provide grounds upon which the Probate & Family Court can grant you a divorce.

The Fault Statute: M.G.L. ch. 208 § 1 authorizes the Courts in Massachusetts to grant divorces to residents of Massachusetts for a specific list of "fault" situations: adultery; impotence, desertion continued for one year; gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs; cruel and abusive treatment; imprisonment; or, if a spouse being of sufficient ability, grossly or wantonly and cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable support and maintenance for the other spouse.

These are called "fault" divorces because obtaining a divorce for any of these reasons requires that you first prove that one spouse has caused the divorce by doing one of the things listed, i.e. it is "their fault" that the marriage has broken down.  It is unusual under the current state of Massachusetts law to file for "fault" divorces because they require this extra evidence of fault before a divorce can be granted.

The No-Fault Statutes: M.G.L. ch. 208 § 1A and M.G.L. ch. 208 § 1B authorize the Courts in Massachusetts to grant divorces to residents of Massachusetts for "an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." The irretrievable breakdown standard simply requires that the Court find that at least one of the parties in the marriage believes (subjectively) that their marriage is over and that there is no chance of reconciliation.

If you are filing for a No-Fault Divorce (the most likely option) then you may not have to litigate your case.  There are other (oftentimes better) options for:

3. HOW will you get divorced?

There are four paths you can take to get divorced: Direct Settlement Negotiation, Litigation, Mediation, or Collaborative Divorce.  We created an infographic to help you visualize the different tracks you can take, and how you might end up moving from one track to the other (as well as some of the waypoints along the way):  The Divorce Roller-Coaster: An Infographic of Options.

Each path has strengths and weaknesses and we examined some of these in the following posts:

Mediation, Collaborative Law or Litigation: What's your Vote?

The Cleavers Divorce: A Mediation

The Huxtable's Divorce: A Collaborative Divorce

The Honeymooner's Divorce: A Litigation Case

To learn more about the pros and cons of each option visit our: Litigation site, Mediation site, or Collaborative Divorce site.

Regardless of which of these paths you believe is best for your case, you will likely benefit from some help:

4. WHO can help you get divorced?

An attorney can help you with all of the steps in the divorce process. An experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney can answer or help you answer all of the questions raised at the beginning of your case (as covered in this post); help guide you through the process that you choose; assist you in drafting necessary documents, negotiating and presenting your case; and prepare and explain any settlements in your case. You can hire an attorney to help you with all of these elements of your case, or just parts of your case (through Limited Assistance Representation).

In addition, whatever path you choose to get divorced, there are many instances where other professionals can assist in moving a case forward and reduce the cost spent on attorney's time as described in our post: Besides an Attorney, what professionals might be involved in my Divorce case?

And finally, even once you've answered the who, what, why and how, you still need to know:

5. WHERE will you get divorced?

In Massachusetts, the county that you file for divorce in is controlled by M.G.L. c. 208 s 6. You should file in the probate court in the county where either you or your spouse lives, unless one of you still resides in the county where you last lived together, in which case you should file in that county. For clarification on how to apply these rules, and to read about two exceptions to the rules, read this post: What County do I File my Divorce in? Click here for Directions and Phone Numbers to the Probate & Family Courts in each county.


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