Massachusetts Divorce & Separation
Separations and divorces are common occurrences in every state, yet the procedures and laws in each state can vary widely. Massachusetts is certainly no exception, and you may have a number of questions about the specifics. What are the requirements for legal separations and divorces in Massachusetts? Is mediation a requirement before you can get a divorce in the state? What is the Massachusetts law on annulments? Find the answers to your Massachusetts divorce questions here.
Massachusetts Legal Separation:
Legal separations are allowed in Massachusetts. The only requirements are that one party must be a resident of the state and both parties must agree to the separation. The court can and does make orders with regard to any issues relating to the care and custody of minor children that may be involved, and any judgments made are always open for revision at the court's discretion, for instance when the children's needs change as a result of a parental change in circumstances, such as a job relocation.
Grounds for Divorce/Fault - No Fault:
Massachusetts has both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. The standard used for no-fault grounds is an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." On the other hand, fault-based reasons require much more specific grounds, such as adultery, a party's "intolerable behavior," abandonment for more than six months, both parties agreeing to the dissolution of the marriage and living separately and apart for more than one year, or both parties having lived separately and apart for more than two years.
Residency/Where to File for Divorce:
To file for divorce, the plaintiff must have been a resident of the state for at least one year before filing (where the grounds for divorce occurred outside the state), and the petition must be filed in the circuit court with jurisdiction over the county in which either party resides. When grounds occurred inside Massachusetts, either spouse must be a resident. To qualify to file for divorce, the couple must have lived together in the state as husband and wife.
Availability of Simplified or Special Divorce Procedures:
In general, there are no procedures allowing for simplified or special divorces in Massachusetts. The one exception to this is the situation of no-fault divorces filed with 1) signed petition (by both spouses), 2) a notarized separation agreement or marital settlement agreement, and 3) an affidavit swearing irretrievability of the marriage. These divorce actions are heard by the judge with no summons requirement and with a statutory eye toward a speedy resolution. Note also that some of the required documentation, especially the separation agreement, is most prudently handled via mediation sessions out of court, and usually with attorney representation to ensure full legal accuracy. See our Divorce Mediationsection below for more information.
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Divorce Mediation in Massachusetts:
A mediation session may be called to resolve matters that are still contested but that ultimately are better off resolved in a less acrimonious environment than courtroom litigation. In addition, where children are involved, mediation may be appropriate to help ensure children are properly cared for despite the parents' differences. Courts also have the authority to order alternative dispute resolution when they see fit. In general, though, a mediation session will only be called for when there are issues that can clearly be resolved and agreed upon amicably through a conference, rather than forcing the parties, children, and the backlogged court system to suffer needlessly through litigation.
A court may declare your marriage legally invalid through an annulment. Rather than ending a marriage via divorce, an annulment is a declaration that the marriage was never valid to begin with. Reasons for the court declaring an annulment might include fraud, duress, a party's minor status, or consanguinity.
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