How to obtain a divorce in Massachusetts


To obtain a divorce in Massachusetts, one party to a valid marriage files a "Complaint For Divorce."   The Massachusetts divorce complaint is filed in the County where the parties last lived as husband and wife (if one party still resides in that County.) (If the "cause of action" occurred outside Massachusetts, there is a one-year residency requirement before the now Massachusetts resident can file for a Divorce.) In the past, there had to be a fault upon which to base the Complaint. Today, there is the "irretrievable breakdown" cause of action, also known as the "no fault" divorce. In the "no fault" situation, one party to the marriage can file the Complaint (pursuant to G. L. ch. 208 section 1B); or, the parties together can file a Joint Petition (pursuant to G. L. ch. 208 section 1A).  See FAQ about divorce in Massachusetts.

A 1A divorce is an uncontested divorce. It is typically begun by filing a joint petition for divorce along with other required documents and a signed and notarized divorce agreement. The Judgment of Divorce will enter 30 days from the date of the divorce hearing, and will be come final 90 days there after, for a total of 120 days during which the parties are not legally free to remarry. In order to obtain a divorce pursuant to MGL. c. 208, s. 1A, parties must be able to communicate and cooperate at least well enough to reach an agreement on the issues in the divorce. A 1B divorce is a contested divorce, begun when one (or sometimes both) parties file a complaint for divorce. Contested issues may include child custody and support, parenting time, alimony, division of assets, as well as other issues. A contested divorce is expected to be completed in approximately 14 months, although it can take more or even less time.



What is Required to file for divorce?


  • Marriage Certificate;
  • Complaint or Petition;
  • Summons or Return of Service;
  • Form R 408 Statistical Form;
  • Financial Statement from both parties; and
  • Certificate of attendance at a Parent Education Program (if there are minor children).



In addition to the documents above which are part of the record of the case, the Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure require mandatory self disclosure of a whole host of financial records. (See Supplemental Rule 410 below) Also, the filing of the Complaint for Divorce effectuates an automatic restraining order requiring both parties to preserve marital assets. Failure to abide by the restraining order may be deemed a contempt of Court.


When negotiating the Separation Agreement, the factors that seem to carry persuasive weight with the Judges are: length of the marriage, health of the parties, amount and sources of income, employability and special needs of children. (See factors list at end). The assets available for division include all the normal stuff and such things as pensions and inherited property. In Massachusetts, all assets acquired during the marriage without regard for the title are deemed "marital assets." In a medium or long term marriage, assets acquired by one party before the marriage, in most instances, will be considered a "marital asset."



Alimony is awarded based upon need. (Length of the marriage is a very important factor to alimony awards.) There is no set formula or time period. This is an area that needs discussion.


Child support, in most cases, is set according to the "Child Support Guidelines" in effect at the time the Court makes the child support order. Guidelines support orders are computed using gross income figures. Income includes: salary and wages (overtime and tips); commissions; severance pay, royalties, bonuses, interest and dividends, partnerships or self-employment income, social security, veterans benefits, workers' and unemployment compensation, pensions, annuities, income from trusts, lottery or gambling winnings, net rental income and so forth.



A "Complaint for Divorce" is an civil action. If the parties cannot mutually come to terms about the division of assets, custody and support (and all the particulars of each situation), then there is a trial and the Court renders a Judgment (weighing the "section 34" factors offered into evidence, see list at end). At the time of the hearing or trial, the Court enters a "Judgment of Divorce Nisi" which becomes "Absolute" 90 days later.


Typically, your Divorce attorney will require a retainer and bill for services by the hour. The amount of the retainer often depends upon your attorney's assessment of the amount of contention he or she perceives to exist between the parties. The client should expect to sign a "Fee Agreement" and replenish the retainer whenever the time billed has depleted it. The Client understands that due to the personal nature and circumstances of domestic relations matters, no precise estimate of legal fees can be given.





(a) Mandatory Initial Disclosures


 (1) Except as otherwise agreed by the parties or ordered by the court, each party shall deliver to the other within 45 days from the date of service of the summons the following documents:


(a) The parties' federal and state income tax returns and schedules for the past three (3) years and non-public, limited partnership and privately held corporate returns for any entity in which either party has an interest together with all supporting documentation for tax returns, including but not limited to w-2's, 1099's, K-1, Schedule C and Schedule E.

(b) Statements of the past three (3) years for all bank accounts held in the name of either party individually or jointly, or in the name of another person for the benefit of either party, or held by either party for the benefit of the parties' minor child(ren).


(c) The four (4) most recent pay stubs from each employer for whom the party worked.


(d) Documentation regarding the cost and nature of available health insurance coverage.


(e) Statements for the past three (3) years for any securities, stocks, bonds, notes or obligations, certificates of deposit owned or held by either party or held by either party for the benefit of the parties' minor child(ren), 401K statements, IRA statements, and pension plan statements for all accounts listed on the 401 financial statement.


(f) Copies of any loan or mortgage applications made, prepared or submitted by either party within the last three (3) years prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.


(g) Copies of any financial statement and/or statement of assets and liabilities prepared by either party within the last three (3) years prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce.


 (2) The parties shall supplement all disclosures as material changes occur during the progress of the case. Neither party shall be permitted to file any discovery motions prior to making the initial disclosure as described herein.


(b) Unavailability of Documents


In the event that either party does not have any of the documents required pursuant to this Rule or has not been able to obtain them in a timely fashion, he or she shall state in writing, under the penalties of perjury, the specific documents which are not available, the reasons the documents are not available, and what efforts have been made to obtain the documents. As more information becomes available there is a continuing duty to supplement.


 Factors that effect marital property distribution and alimony




3. AGE.












 Other Factors:







Contact an Expert Divorce Attorney

 At the Law Offices of Michael R. St. Louis, we are fully prepared to handle your divorce case. As a leading Boston divorce law firm, we can provide you with the direction and legal counsel you need in your divorce. Call our Law Offices today for your free consultation at 781-816-3950 or contact us online.



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