Divorce in Massachusetts: everything you need to know

1 min readLast updated March 22, 2024by Unbiased team

Learn more about divorce proceedings in the state of Massachusetts.

Summary

  • In Massachusetts, divorces can be filed as either fault-based or no-fault.    

  • The filing fee for divorce in Massachusetts is around $215.

  • Uncontested divorces are usually finalized between 90 and 120 days after filing.

  • A financial advisor can help you navigate your finances during a divorce and rebuild afterward.

What are the different types of divorce in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts recognizes two types of divorce: no-fault and fault.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.

1. No-fault divorce

A no-fault divorce means that neither spouse blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage, and they agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

A no-fault divorce can be either uncontested or contested.

An uncontested divorce means that both spouses agree on all the terms of the divorce, such as custody, support, property division, and alimony. It is usually faster, cheaper, and less stressful than a contested divorce.

A contested divorce means that the spouses disagree on some or all of the terms of the divorce, and they need the court to decide for them. It is often lengthy, expensive, and contentious.

2. Fault divorce

A fault divorce means that one spouse accuses the other of committing a specific wrongdoing that caused the marriage to fail, such as adultery, abuse, desertion, or imprisonment.

A fault divorce is always contested, as the accused spouse has the right to defend themselves against the allegations.

How much does a divorce cost in Massachusetts?

The cost of a divorce in Massachusetts varies depending on the type and complexity of the case, as well as the fees of the professionals involved.

However, some of the common costs that you can expect to pay are:

  • Filing fee: This is the fee that you have to pay to the court when you file for divorce. The filing fee is around $215. You may also have to pay additional fees for copies, certificates, or motions.

  • Service fee: This is the fee that you have to pay to the person or service that delivers the divorce papers to your spouse. The service fee can range from $20 to $100, depending on the method and distance of service.

  • Mediation fee: This is the fee that you have to pay to a mediator if you choose to use mediation to resolve your divorce issues. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process where a neutral third party helps you and your spouse reach an agreement. The mediation fee can vary depending on the mediator’s qualifications, experience, and rates. Complete costs can range from $5,000 to $7,000, depending on your unique case.

  • Attorney fee: This is the fee that you have to pay to a lawyer if you choose to hire one to represent you in your divorce. The attorney fee can vary depending on the lawyer’s skills, reputation, and rates, but it can range from $200 to $500 per hour. You may also have to pay a retainer fee, which is a lump sum that the lawyer charges upfront to take your case.

  • Other fees: These are the fees that you may have to pay for other services or expenses related to your divorce, such as appraisals, evaluations, expert witnesses, court reporters, or taxes.

The total cost of a divorce in Massachusetts can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the factors mentioned above.

How do you file for divorce in Massachusetts?

There are multiple steps you have to go through to file for divorce in Massachusetts:

  1. Ensure that you or your spouse meets the residency requirements for filing in Massachusetts, which includes living in the state for at least one year or having the grounds for divorce occur within Massachusetts.

  2. Gather the necessary paperwork for your type of divorce:

    • For a no-fault divorce:

      • File a joint petition if uncontested or a complaint if contested.

      • Include a separation agreement (if available) outlining terms such as custody, support, property division, and alimony, or a financial statement if there's no agreement.

      • Consider additional forms like an affidavit of irretrievable breakdown or a parent education certificate if applicable.

    • For a fault divorce:

      • File a complaint specifying the grounds for divorce (adultery, abuse, desertion, etc.).

      • Include a financial statement and any other relevant forms like requests for temporary orders.

  3. Pay the filing fees associated with your paperwork.

  4. Serve the divorce papers to your spouse through methods like mail, sheriff, or constable.

  5. Wait for your spouse's response, which typically has a deadline of 20 days. They can file an answer agreeing or disagreeing with the allegations or file a counterclaim with their own allegations.

  6. If your spouse fails to respond within the specified time frame, you may request a default judgment from the court, which grants you the divorce based on your terms.

How do you split assets in a divorce in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will divide the marital assets and debts fairly and reasonably, but not necessarily equally.

The court will classify the assets and debts as either marital or separate.

Marital assets and debts are those that were acquired or incurred during the marriage, regardless of whose name they are in.

Separate assets and debts are those that were owned or owed by either spouse before the marriage or that were received by either spouse as a gift or inheritance during the marriage.

Generally, the court will only divide the marital assets and debts and leave the separate assets and debts to the spouse who owns or owes them.

How does alimony work in Massachusetts?

Alimony is not automatic in Massachusetts, and the court will decide whether to award alimony, how much, and for how long based on various factors, such as:

  • The length of the marriage

  • The income, assets, and liabilities of each spouse

  • The age, health, education, and employability of each spouse

  • The contribution of each spouse to the marital estate, the household, and the career of the other spouse

  • The standard of living established during the marriage

In Massachusetts, there are four types of alimony: general term alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and transitional alimony.

1.      General term alimony is a periodic payment that the higher-earning spouse makes to the lower-earning spouse until the death of either spouse, the remarriage of the recipient spouse, or a certain duration based on the length of the marriage.

2.      Rehabilitative alimony is a periodic payment that the higher-earning spouse makes to the lower-earning spouse for a limited time to help the recipient spouse become self-supporting.

3.      Reimbursement alimony is a lump sum or periodic payment that the higher-earning spouse makes to the lower-earning spouse to compensate the recipient spouse for the contribution to the education, training, or career of the payor spouse.

4.      Transitional alimony is a periodic or lump sum payment that the higher-earning spouse makes to the lower-earning spouse for a short time to help the recipient spouse adjust to the changed lifestyle or location after the divorce.

The court will determine the amount and duration of alimony based on the type of alimony, each spouse's needs and resources, and the statutory guidelines and limits.

What happens to children during a divorce in Massachusetts?

If you have children under 18 years old, you and your spouse will have to decide on two major issues: child custody and child support.

  • Child Custody

Child custody refers to each parent's legal and physical rights and responsibilities regarding the care, control, and welfare of the children.

There are two types of child custody in Massachusetts: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make major decisions for the children, such as education, health care, religion, and extracurricular activities.

Physical custody is the right and responsibility to provide a home and daily care for the children.

The court may award either sole or joint custody, depending on the best interests of the children.

The court will determine the child custody arrangement based on various factors, including the wishes of the parents and children, the relationship between the parent and children, and both parties' physical and mental health.

  • Child Support

Child support is the amount of money that one parent pays to the other parent to help cover the costs of raising the children, such as food, clothing, housing, education, health care, and recreation.

The court will determine the amount of child support based on the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines, which are a set of rules and formulas that consider various factors, such as each parent's income, the number of children, and the custody arrangement.

How can you protect your finances when going through a divorce in Massachusetts?

Here are some ways you can protect your money when going through a divorce:

  • Organize your financial documents: Before initiating divorce proceedings, gather essential financial records such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and retirement account statements. Creating a comprehensive list of assets and liabilities, both marital and non-marital, can aid in negotiating a fair distribution of property and debts with your spouse.

  • Explore mediation: Mediation involves collaborating with a neutral third party to address divorce-related issues like property division, alimony, child custody, and support. It's often a less time-consuming, more cost-effective, and less stressful alternative to going to court.

  • Consider Social Security benefits: If your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. This can provide valuable income during retirement, especially if your ex-spouse earned more than you. However, specific criteria must be met to qualify for this benefit.

  • Seek professional assistance: Divorce can significantly impact your financial situation. Consider consulting with a financial advisor specializing in divorce to help you navigate these changes and plan for your future.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor perfectly suited to meet your needs. Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and Unbiased’s platform will match you with your advisor.

Find your financial advisor with Unbiased today.

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Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.