Massachusetts Divorce Laws Staff Profile Picture
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Massachusetts, also officially known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is one of the states with the lowest divorce rates. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the state had 1.0 divorces per 1,000 people in 2021. 

This divorce rate looks significantly lower than that for, say, Nevada and Wyoming, which had divorce rates of 4.2 and 3.7, respectively. While this finding suggests that couples in the Bay State are less likely than those in other states to go their separate ways, divorces still happen. 

Every marriage is unique, and the circumstances that lead a couple to divorce vary between cases. Communication issues, infidelity, personality differences, financial issues, or even abuse are some of the reasons behind troubled marriages. These factors can lead to the breakdown of marital relationships, resulting in couples getting divorced.

Divorce is not an easy path to take, both in the emotional and in the legal sense. Whether you are currently going through a divorce or are contemplating it, it is essential that you’re informed of Massachusetts’ legal procedures for an uncomplicated and less psychologically demanding exit from a relationship that has run its course.

Separate Support, Annulment, and Divorce in Massachusetts

Separate Support

Unlike several other states, Massachusetts does not have a statute or process for legal separation, as couples in the state do not need court approval to live separately. Instead, the state offers separate support for estranged couples. This allows an individual to file a suit against their spouse for the following reasons:

  • The spouse doesn’t provide child or spousal support.

  • The spouse has abandoned their partner.

  • The couple lives separately.

  • The couple has reasonable cause to live separately.

Separate support is an ideal option for couples who do not wish to be together but do not seek to legally separate from one another due to religious, financial, or personal reasons.  


It’s not easy to acquire an annulment in Massachusetts. This is because the couple must prove in court that their marriage is void or voidable. Under the law, a marriage can be declared void on the following grounds:

  • A spouse committed bigamy, and the other spouse was unaware of it. 

  • The couple are close relatives.

If there’s evidence of any of these circumstances, the court will declare the union void from the beginning.

For voidable marriages, the law provides the following grounds:

  • One of the spouses did not have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage.

  • One of the spouses is unable to participate in the consummation of their marriage.

  • One of the spouses is under legal age at the time of marriage.

  • The marriage was fraudulent.

If any of the above is true, the court will consider the union valid but legally defective, allowing the couple to end the marriage.


Divorce in Massachusetts terminates the marriage once the court delivers its judgment. As compared to annulment, divorce acknowledges that a legally valid marriage has existed but has come to an end due to various reasons. These reasons, as well as the processes and limitations, are explored further in the following sections.

Is Massachusetts a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

Although some couples would rather not delve into the specifics of how their relationship broke down, Massachusetts law requires estranged couples to formally declare their reason for getting a divorce. This helps the couple focus on having an amicable divorce and avoids the pitfall of delaying the process by blaming one another. 

Massachusetts couples can choose to file their divorce either as fault or no-fault, contested or uncontested. A divorce is contested if only one of the parties is in agreement with the divorce. It is uncontested if both parties are in agreement with the divorce. 

Fault Divorce

For a fault divorce, at least one of the following must be proven as the reason for filing the action:

  • A spouse commits adultery. 

  • A spouse cannot engage in sexual activity with their partner.

  • A spouse has abandoned their partner for over a year.

  • A spouse has a severe alcohol or drug addiction.

  • A spouse is abusive to their partner.

  • A spouse refuses to give financial support to their partner.

  • A has a five-year or longer prison sentence.

Because of the requirement to prove fault on the part of a spouse for the dissolution of the marriage bonds, a fault divorce can take longer and cost more money than a no-fault divorce.

Spouses who prefer a more amicable and less stressful divorce process may file for a no-fault divorce instead. The grounds for such a divorce are simply the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Under no-fault divorce, couples may file for either a no-fault 1A divorce or a no-fault 1B divorce.  

No-Fault Divorce

For a no-fault 1A divorce, also known as an uncontested no-fault divorce, it is required that the spouses have agreed that their marriage is not only broken beyond repair but that being together can no longer be sustainable. 

In this type of divorce, the courts require a written separation agreement. Both spouses must sign the separation agreement and have it notarized. The document must have details on the couple’s agreement regarding child and spousal support, parenting schedules, child custody, and the distribution of marital assets.

For a no-fault 1B divorce or a contested no-fault divorce, either one spouse or both spouses believe that the marriage is broken beyond repair but cannot come to an agreement on the delegation of child and spousal support, parenting schedules, child custody, and marital assets. 

Unlike the no-fault 1A divorce, which only requires a written separation agreement from both parties, couples filing under the no-fault 1B divorce are required to file a complaint for divorce.  

Under Massachusetts divorce laws, the court won’t use recrimination, a concept where spouses accuse each other of the same misconduct, as a reason to deny a divorce. This is to make sure that the divorce proceedings can continue without investigating who is at fault in the marriage.

How to File for Divorce in Massachusetts

If you have decided to end your marriage through divorce in Massachusetts, it is important that you follow the state’s legal guidelines. From meeting the residency requirements to receiving the divorce decree, here are the essential steps that you should follow for a smooth divorce process. 

Fulfill the Residency Requirements

Anyone who is filing for divorce in Massachusetts (the petitioner) must meet the following residency requirements:

  1. If the reason for the decision to divorce happened outside of the state, the petitioner must have lived in Massachusetts for at least a year prior to the commencement of the action.

  2. If the reason for the decision to divorce happened inside the state, the petitioner must have been living in Massachusetts at the time of filing.

If the person filing for divorce is discovered to have moved to the state just for the purpose of getting a divorce, the Massachusetts court will not grant the divorce.

Fill Out the Divorce Papers

A couple must file a petition for divorce with the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. The forms for the petition for divorce vary depending on the type of divorce filed. 

Under the no-fault 1A divorce, spouses or their lawyers must provide the following:

  • A certified copy of the marriage certificate.

  • Joint Petition for Divorce Form (CJD-101A).

  • Separation Agreement.

  • Affidavit of Irretrievable Breakdown (signed by both spouses)

  • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408).

  • Military affidavit (for army members).

  • A financial statement from each spouse.

For no-fault 1B divorces, the required documents are as follows:

  • A certified copy of the marriage certificate.

  • Complaint for Divorce under Section 1B (CJD-101B).

  • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408).

  • Military affidavit (for army members).

  • A financial statement from each spouse.

No-fault 1B divorces require the following:

  • A certified copy of the marriage certificate.

  • Complaint for Divorce Form (CJD-101).

  • Record of Absolute Divorce (R-408).

  • Military affidavit (for army members).

  • A financial statement from each spouse.

The court also provides remedies for those with circumstances that can affect divorce proceedings. 

Couples with children under 18 are required to file an Affidavit of Care and Custody and Child Support Guidelines Worksheet at the clerk’s office. If a couple does not want child support guidelines to be applied in their divorce case, they must file the Findings and Determinations for Child Support and Post-Secondary Education.

File the Paperwork and Pay the Fees

Once all of the necessary forms have been filled out, the couple can proceed with paying the required fees:

  • Divorce filing fee - $200

  • Divorce filing surcharge - $15

  • Divorce summons charge - $5

A no-fault 1A divorce does not require payment of the divorce summons charge. If both spouses file for an Affidavit of Indigency, the divorce fees may be waived. 

Couples in Massachusetts can file their divorce paperwork in person, by mail, or online via eFileMA. Spouses who live in the same county are required to file their paperwork and fees with the county’s Probate and Family Court. Otherwise, they must file in the county where they are currently residing.

For a fault divorce and a no-fault 1B divorce, the courts will send the complaint for divorce and a summons to the respective spouse once the paperwork has been filed in court. This gives the spouse time to file an answer, leading to the next step.

Attend Hearings

Once all the paperwork has been filed and sent to the respective parties, the couple must attend the scheduled hearing unless they send a waiver of attendance to the court. 

For no-fault 1B and fault divorces, the spouses are required to swap financial statements and establish a separation agreement before attending the hearing. If there are issues that the couple can’t agree on, they may schedule a pre-trial hearing with the court to settle the conflict.

During the hearing, which is scheduled no more than 6 months after the filing, the judge will review the affidavit and separation agreement of the couple. 

Within 30 days of the hearing, the judge will decide whether to accept, reject, or amend the agreement. If the couple still has not reached an agreement, another trial will be conducted for a final decision. 

Once the judge grants the divorce, the parties have a chance to consider and finalize the terms of their divorce. This stage, which lasts from 90 to 120 days, is known as a divorce nisi. After this period has passed, the divorce will become final on its own.

How Property Is Divided in a Massachusetts Divorce

Since the distribution of marital property during the dissolution of the marriage may depend on state jurisdiction, understanding Massachusetts laws on marital property division is necessary for those undergoing divorce in the state.

Marital property in Massachusetts pertains to all the properties of the spouses, including those that they owned individually prior to marriage.

So, if you and your partner buy your own real estate properties and stocks before getting married, those assets, along with the assets you will acquire throughout your marriage, will be considered part of the marital property.

Massachusetts follows the “equitable distribution” principle when it comes to dividing marital property in a divorce. This is why the state government requires divorcing couples to file their personal financial statements in order to assess the current value of their marital property. 

The court will then decide how to divide the property based on several factors. These include the length of the marriage, the age and health of the parties, and the parties’ occupation and sources of income. It will also consider the needs of the dependent children in the marriage and the contribution of the spouses toward their own estates and to the marital property. 

Massachusetts Divorce FAQs

Divorce is an emotional and difficult process, and understanding the legal complexities surrounding it can be even more challenging. As such, having access to reliable information is critical, whether you are contemplating divorce, in the middle of the proceedings, or coping with post-divorce concerns. Here are some common questions you might face with regard to divorce in the state.

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Massachusetts

Getting a divorce is a long and arduous process. Learning the state’s divorce laws, filing the paperwork, paying the fees, serving the papers to the other spouse, settling a separation agreement, attending hearings, and finalizing the divorce after the judgment can be stressful if there are circumstances that can cause the divorce to deviate from the standard flow. Because of this, legal assistance can offer great help to a person if they do not have the support and resources necessary to make the divorce process easy.

Lawyer for the Day

Massachusetts has Lawyer for the Day programs that provide legal advice, teach relevant laws and rights, and assist in filling out forms. Volunteer lawyers in these programs can help those who wish to file for divorce by explaining to them their options and how to represent themselves in court. To make the most of your local court’s Lawyer for the Day program, reach out to the court to see if there are volunteer lawyers available on the date of your hearing. You can bring all of your divorce paperwork and go to the courthouse early to discuss the process with the lawyer.


MassLegalHelp is a legal information website established in 2005 under the Massachusetts Legal Aid Websites Project. It provides easy-to-understand information and resources on divorce issues such as alimony, support and custody, and domestic violence, helping individuals process their divorce on their own. The website is managed by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and publishes content written by legal professionals.

Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder

Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder is the state’s online directory for legal programs and referrals. MassLRF lists legal programs that are non-profit and offer free or low-cost legal services. While most of the programs in the directory are for those with low income, MassLRF also lists programs for any income, age, or situation. For those who wish to contact a specific attorney to handle their divorce case, the directory has a list of bar referral services that have lawyers’ contact information.

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