Your Complete Guide to Getting a Divorce in Massachusetts

What We Cover In This Article

Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives


Whether you've been married for five months or 50 years, getting a divorce isn't an easy decision to make. If you're finding yourself in a position where it's time to end your marriage, you're not alone.

We understand that getting a divorce can be complicated, from knowing what documents you need, whether you need an attorney or not, and how to divide your assets.

If you don't know where to begin, we're here to help.

We'll discuss everything there is to know about getting a divorce in Massachusetts, so you feel more prepared as you take those next steps into the next chapter of your life.

Types of Divorce Laws in Massachusetts

Each state has laws and regulations surrounding divorces. These laws help ensure that divorce, even complicated ones, goes as smoothly as possible.

These divorce laws include situations where both parties want a divorce, only one spouse does, or tensions are high due to whatever reason. Knowing the different types of divorces in Massachusetts can help you understand what may occur during your divorce.

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is the opposite of a contested divorce. Uncontested divorces in Massachusetts are often referred to as a “no-fault 1a divorce”.

If you and your spouse are lucky enough to agree on all the terms of your divorce, this is an uncontested divorce. Uncontested divorces aren't as standard, but they are the ideal situation.

You and your spouse must agree on dividing your assets and debts, alimony and who gets custody of the children, if any, including child support. When you two agree on everything, there will be minimal to no tension surrounding the divorce.

These divorces tend to be faster and cheaper because there's no need for a judge to hold a trial and, frequently, no need for attorneys.

Pros & Cons

  • Uncontested divorces save you time and money
  • Drama free way to end the marriage
  • These divorces tend to process quicker
  • You can avoid taking the divorce to trial
  • Requires the ability to navigate the divorce process
  • If domestic violence is involved, a contested divorce is safer
  • Neither spouse can demand additional spousal support or child support unless the other agrees.
  • Both spouses give up the right to appeal the terms of the divorce in the future.
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Contested Divorce

Contested simply means “opposed.”

A contested divorce in Massachusetts is one in which the two parties do not agree on all aspects and require a judge to decide the terms of the divorce.

While this is much more difficult than an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce is not necessarily hostile or complicated all the time.

It can just indicate that you need some help working out the final details of your agreement.

There are several reasons why you might end up in a contested divorce proceeding:

  • Either you or your spouse does not wish to be divorced
  • You have a disagreement about the grounds for the divorce
  • You cannot come to an agreement on the terms of your divorce.

This disagreement could be that you have different opinions on how to divide your finances, who gets custody of the children, who is responsible for various debts, or other problems, like spousal support.

Contested divorces can involve a much longer process.

The court will not resolve it in one quick and easy hearing.

There are several hearings during this type of divorce in Massachusetts.

The series of hearings involve temporary and interim hearings to decide on temporary measures such as child support and custody, and spousal support while the matter is still being determined.

There are many costs and factors that may arise as the divorce progresses.

The court will set dates for discovery and presentation of evidence and facts, as well as other deadlines the couple will have to meet.

Sometimes, a contested divorce requires the involvement of third parties.

In matters of child custody, there may be a Guardian Ad Litem, medical professionals, or even Child Protective Services who must give their input.

The parents may have to have psychiatric evaluations, take drug tests, provide their financial information or medical history.

All of these complications can lead to a drawn-out process.

While the goal of the Massachusetts Court System is to resolve contested divorces in one year or less, more complicated battles may end up taking more time.

For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you do not attempt a contested divorce without representation.

However, family law attorneys are not cheap, and during a messy court battle, you will be racking up many man-hours.

These types of scenarios are definitely considered “worst case.”

Your contested divorce could be as simple as disagreeing on the presence or amount of alimony or child support, or the division of property, or who gets to remain in the marital home.

In these cases, the judge will review the contributing factors and make a ruling based on the facts presented to them.

Most contested divorces get a settlement along the way, and a final trial is not necessary.

A family court judge will prefer to see divorcing couples resolve their disputes themselves without requiring outside intervention.

If you and your spouse cannot agree between yourselves, be prepared to accept whatever ruling the judge will make.

The judge will try to be as fair as possible, but when left to a third party, there will likely be elements of the outcome that feel unfair or unacceptable to either or both parties.

This outcome is why it is crucial to make your best effort to resolve outstanding issues with your ex.

Pros & Cons

  • You can fight for what you feel you deserve
  • If you and your spouse can not get along, this will help move through the process with 3rd parties
  • You may have to go to trial
  • These types of divorce tend to take much longer
  • It's more expensive than uncontested or simplified divorces
  • Typically more stressful
Key Takeaways
Massachusetts has two types of divorces: contested and uncontested. Contested divorces are more common and happen when both spouses cannot fully agree on the terms of their divorce. In contrast, uncontested divorces are faster because both spouses are in complete agreement on all the terms.

Residency Requirements in Massachusetts

As with other states, before you or your spouse can file for divorce in Massachusetts, at least one of you must meet the residency requirements. You won't want to head to the courthouse to file for divorce without first knowing if you meet these requirements.

The residency requirements in Massachusetts are a little different from other states because they define the requirements based on where the fault happened.

If the reason you're filing for divorce happened while living in Massachusetts, one of the spouses has to be a legal resident of Massachusetts. The length of time doesn't matter.

Keep in mind that you'll need to be honest through this process. If the judge believes you moved to Massachusetts solely to get a quicker divorce, they can deny it.

If the reason for the divorce happened in another state, one of the spouses must be a resident of Massachusetts for at least one calendar year.

If your spouse lives outside of Massachusetts, the best option you have is to hire a process server or contact the local sheriff's office for where they live. They'll be able to serve your spouse the papers.

There are some situations where a person filing for divorce cannot locate their spouse. If this is the case, you and the constable or sheriff must conduct a diligent search. After this, if you still can't find your spouse, divorce by publication is appropriate.

Key Takeaways
To file for divorce in Massachusetts, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements. Depending on where the fault causing the divorce happened, you can file for divorce immediately as long as one spouse is a Massachusetts resident or one spouse must be a resident of the state for at least one year.

Grounds for Divorce in Massachusetts

Grounds for divorce are defined as the reason you're seeking the dissipation of your marriage. Many states classify themselves as either a no-fault divorce state or a fault divorce state. Massachusetts allows both fault and no-fault divorces.

No-Fault Divorce

In a no-fault divorce, the spouse filing for divorce doesn't have to prove any specific reason for why they're seeking a divorce. Both spouses must agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Simply put, when you claim your marriage is irretrievably broken, you and your spouse are agreeing and acknowledging that you two cannot fix it. When you file for a no-fault divorce, you're letting the courts know that your spouse isn't at fault, whatever the reason for the divorce.

Fault Divorce

A fault divorce is when the spouse filing for divorce is stating exactly why they're filing. When this path is taken, the spouse filing will have to prove that the other spouse had a “fault,” which has led them to file for divorce. Examples of faults include:

  • Alcohol or drug addiction: If your spouse abuses alcohol or any drugs, it can be seen as grounds for divorce. While addiction is a disease, it can cause issues within a marriage, warranting a divorce if you choose.
  • Adultery: Cheating or adultery is one of the biggest causes of divorce. In a fault divorce state, you can use this as a defense.
  • Abandonment of spouse for a year before the divorce: If your spouse leaves for at least a year, the courts see this as grounds for divorce.
  • Impotence: While sexual relations aren't the most critical thing in a relationship for everyone, impotence can cause problems. If your spouse is impotent, this could put them at fault for the divorce.
  • Abusive treatment (physically or mentally): No one should be in a bad marriage where physical and mental abuse is rampant. If you're in this unfortunate situation, stating this as a fault can push your divorce through.
  • Confinement to a penal institution for more than five years: Regardless of whatever your spouse was sentenced to prison for, if it's for more than five years, you can file for divorce.
  • Refusal to support a spouse when able to: If your spouse refuses to support you financially or emotionally, you can use that as grounds for divorce.

When filing for a fault divorce, something to keep in mind is that even if you genuinely believe or know your spouse cheated on you, if you cannot prove it, it may not go through. Whether it's cheating, abuse, or something different, you'll need evidence to back up your claims.

If you're filing for a fault divorce because your spouse cheated on you, even if you also cheated on them, they cannot use that fault as a basis for their defense.

Key Takeaways
Massachusetts is a fault and no-fault divorce state. As the filing spouse, you can choose whether you want to apply for a no-fault divorce or a fault one. If you decide to file for a fault divorce, you must be able to prove your spouse did whatever you say they did.

Using a Massachusetts Divorce Attorney

Not all divorces require a divorce attorney. If you and your spouse can settle everything without the use of attorneys, that's great! More often than not, though, people choose to hire an attorney.

If you're pursuing an uncontested divorce without any complexities, hiring a lawyer may not be beneficial for you or your spouse. A lawyer will just cost extra money, and if you can get things handled on your own, there's no need for one.

Even if you and your spouse agree on everything, attorneys may still be beneficial if you need to manage child custody, support, and alimony. Having one is the safest way to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

When it comes to contested divorces, having an attorney is very common. Since you and your spouse aren't in agreement on one or more issues revolving around the divorce, having attorneys can help keep it as peaceful and productive as possible.

What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?

So, you want to hire a divorce attorney but aren't sure what to look for? You're not alone. All lawyers are qualified to practice law, but when you're looking for the right attorney to help you with your divorce, you'll want to look for some specific qualifications:

  • They make you feel comfortable around them
  • They can provide all the support you need regardless of their other ongoing cases
  • They have experience in family or divorce law in Massachusetts
  • They have a high success rate for their family or divorce law cases
  • They have the time to give your case all the appropriate attention
  • They communicate with you every step of the process
  • They can set realistic expectations with you based on your specific situation

When you're looking for a divorce attorney, you may be able to check off some of these qualifications by simply looking at their website. For others, you will need to meet in person to decide if you'll trust them, if you think you'll work well together, etc.

When choosing a divorce attorney, the biggest thing is that you can trust them to handle your case well. If you don't trust your attorney, you're going to constantly be questioning their motives and their decisions when it comes to your divorce.

When working with a qualified and reasonable divorce attorney, they'll be able to set realistic expectations with you. You don't want to hire someone who tells you they can 100% win your case when it's impossible to know.

Another excellent quality for a divorce attorney is that they can give your case the proper attention despite having other ongoing claims. Attorneys rarely work on only one case at a time, so don't be surprised if you're not your attorney's only client.

Even so, an attorney should be able to give your case the proper attention. If you meet the lawyer and feel like they can't handle your divorce case on top of others, you may want to look for someone different.

How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney

There's a couple of ways to find a great divorce attorney to help you move on to the next chapter of your life. Of course, the primary way people locate a divorce attorney is by searching the internet.

When you open your laptop or turn on your computer to look for an attorney, you'll want to be as specific as possible. There are hundreds of types of law and attorneys who specialize in something different.

You'll want to search for a divorce attorney in your Massachusetts city, particularly a family attorney. Most lawyers who practice family law have handled plenty of divorce cases that typically involve children and alimony.

Most law firms will have a website where you can see a bit of the attorney and decide if you want to set up a meeting with them. An initial appointment can let you interview the attorney and make sure that it will be a good fit for your case.

While you're browsing through websites, you'll want to read through any testimonials. These are great tools to see how favorable the lawyer is based on previous clients. If they don't have any testimonials on their website, you should be able to find some with a simple Google search.

Another excellent option for finding a divorce attorney is by word of mouth. If you know anyone in the city you live in that's gotten a divorce, asking them about what attorney they used can be beneficial.

Most people won't refer you to an attorney they didn't enjoy working with. Therefore, if someone is willing to tell you who helped them with their divorce, they're probably worth looking into.

As you search for the best divorce attorney for you, having a budget in mind is essential. Many law firms won't have their rates posted, but as you call to find out more information, be sure to ask so you're not choosing someone out of your budget.

Interview Questions for a Divorce Attorney

Once you've narrowed down the attorney or attorneys you want to work with potentially, you'll want to schedule a time to meet with them or have a phone consultation.

Having a list of questions prepared before your meeting will help move things along and let you decide if this is the right attorney for you or not. Here are some questions you may want to consider asking when you meet with an attorney for the first time:

  • What does your experience with divorces or family law look like?
  • Roughly how many divorces have you worked on and their success rates?
  • How easy is it to get a hold of you for any questions I may have?
  • If I can't reach you about my questions, is there anyone in your office who will assist me?
  • If so, can I meet with them?
  • Based on what I've told you about my case, what do you think the outcome of my divorce will be?
  • Based on what I've told you about my case so far, do you have a strategy in mind?
  • How much do you think the cost of my divorce will be?
  • Will I have to communicate with my spouse, or will you and their attorney handle that?

If you decide to ask them how much they estimate your divorce to cost, don't be surprised if they can't give you an actual number.

They should be able to give you their hourly rate, but it's nearly impossible to tell how much the total will be until they know how many hours they'll be working on your case.

As you talk to the attorney, more questions are bound to come up. They're there to answer any questions you have. They want to know as much as possible too, so they know if they can handle and give your case the attention it deserves.

Is the Initial Consultation Free?

You should always have an initial consultation with an attorney before hiring them. When you call or email to set this up, unless they explicitly say, you'll want to ask if it's free or not.

Whether the attorney will charge a fee or not depends on them and the law firm they work at. Feel free to ask before scheduling so that you're not caught off guard and can plan.

As a general rule, most attorneys will charge a fee. Some may offer free consultations, but they'll charge their regular hourly fee for the initial meeting more often than not.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Attorney-client privilege extends to the initial consultation. You'll be meeting with the attorney to discuss your case, and therefore they won't say anything about it to anyone. If you're concerned about whether it is or not, asking before isn't an issue at all.

Even if you choose not to hire that specific lawyer, they can't share details about your case with your spouse's attorney or with another person.

Pros of Using an Attorney

There are several pros to using a divorce attorney in Massachusetts.

Here are some of the main reasons you should do it.

  • Attorneys have legal knowledge. They understand things like the details of the laws in Massachusetts, what you’re entitled to receive, and what elements could affect your case. Lawyers also understand what courts will focus on and prioritize when deciding whether to grant specific requests from parties.
  • Attorneys can reduce your stress. Divorces are stressful enough for most people, especially if they’re contested. Working with an attorney means you have an expert who fully understands the process and mainly needs you to provide certain information and signatures. That frees you up to spend your time preparing for the next part of your life.
  • You’ll get help with paperwork. Divorces involve quite a lot of paperwork from everyone involved, often to the point of submitting several different forms at each stage of the process. That’s not even getting into matters like discovery, which can get extremely complicated. Lawyers also help ensure that everything gets filed on time.
  • Lawyers are generally neutral. While an attorney works for you, they don’t have an emotional stake in your relationship. That means they can be far more fair and unbiased about things like dividing assets and negotiating for custody of children. This factor is particularly true when lawyers negotiate with each other.
  • Most divorce lawyers are affordable. Naturally, lengthy and complicated cases will get expensive. However, honest lawyers try to minimize their time working for you, so you don’t need to pay any more than necessary. It will never be cheaper than trying to do everything yourself but it might be worthwhile to pay a professional.

Cons of Using an Attorney

There are also disadvantages to hiring an attorney during this process.

  • Lawyers do cost money. While a good lawyer keeps their prices reasonable, they can be too expensive for most clients to hire for extended periods. This consideration may encourage you to file an uncontested divorce to keep costs down even if you want to contest things.
  • You may disagree. You give up an element of control when you bring in a third party to assist you. You may disagree with your attorney’s suggestions and might find it challenging to navigate this situation. Attorney's are supposed to advise you and represent what you want to do but people can have personality conflicts.
  • Lawyers can cause additional drama. People can react if they’re surprised when you hire a lawyer. They may start making assumptions about your plans or panic and do something drastic. More emotional people are more likely to create or respond to drama, real or perceived, during a divorce case. Please note, this typically only happens in an uncontested divorce.

This is the primary deterrent for most people who opt out of representation when going to court.

You also give up an element of control when you bring in a third party to assist you.

You may disagree with your attorney’s suggestions and might find it challenging to navigate this situation.

Key Takeaways
If you and your spouse can't agree on the terms of your divorce, a qualified attorney can help. Not hiring an attorney can save you time and money with your divorce. But when you need one, hiring a great one is vital.

Filing for Divorce in Massachusetts

Filing for a divorce in Massachusetts is more complicated than just showing up to the courthouse. There's quite a bit of paperwork and things that need to happen before a judge grants you the divorce.

Before you can do anything, you need to figure out what type of divorce you're filing for. Is your divorce contested or uncontested? Next, you'll need to determine if you're going to state it's no-fault or that your spouse is at fault. If you're choosing fault, you'll need to declare one of the faults listed previously.

Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

Before a judge can finalize your divorce, you'll need to submit a petition for divorce or a divorce complaint. Which petition you fill out will be dependent on the type of divorce you're filing for.

If you and your spouse are both filing for divorce, you can file for a joint, uncontested, no-fault divorce. In Massachusetts, this is commonly known as a 1A divorce. You and your spouse will be known as petitioner A and petitioner B.

Another option is if you're filing for divorce from your spouse and you're still not stating any fault, it's a 1B divorce in Massachusetts. This is known as a divorce complaint – not a petition – because this is a contested divorce.

Lastly, you'll need to fill out different paperwork if you're the petitioner, but you're stating that your spouse did something to cause the divorce. When filing for a fault divorce, it's known in Massachusetts as a divorce complaint and not a petition.

In addition to the initial petition or complaint, you'll need to gather some other documents before you can officially file the paperwork. Here's a quick look at some of the other documents you'll need to prepare your divorce forms for filing:

  • Completed certification of vital statistics
  • A certified copy of the original marriage certificate or license
  • A child support guidelines worksheet (if applicable)
  • An affidavit of care and custody (if applicable)
  • A certificate that you attended the parent education program (if applicable)
  • Tax returns for the last five years
  • Pay stubs for the last three months
  • Bank and credit card statements
  • Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
  • Investment account statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Mortgage statements
  • Real estate appraisals
  • Deeds to real estate
  • Car loan statements
  • Social security benefit statement

Regardless of the divorce type you're applying for, you can find all the appropriate forms online at the Massachusetts state court website.

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Filing Your Divorce Forms

After you've gathered and filled out all the appropriate forms, the next step is to file them with the courts. When you do this, you'll want to ensure that you give the courts the original copy. It's a good idea to make yourself a copy for your records. They'll create copies for your spouse when they serve them.

As the petitioner, you'll need to bring your documents to your courthouse of the county that you live in. If you and your spouse are joint petitioners, you'll need to go together. Or, you can avoid the courthouse altogether and send the documents in by mail.

Don't forget that when you're ready to file the paperwork, you'll need to bring proof of your or your spouse's Massachusetts residency. If you cannot meet the residency requirements, you will have to wait until the residency requirements are met to file for divorce.

Once you've turned in all the appropriate divorce forms and documents, you'll have to pay a small filing fee. This can vary in price, but generally, it's around $220. Often, if you cannot afford the filing fee, there's paperwork where you can request to have it waived or reduced.

Serving Your Spouse

After you've filed your divorce complaint or petition in person or by mail, you need to serve your spouse. The only reason you wouldn't have to serve your spouse is if you're both joint petitioners. Before you leave the courthouse, you'll be handed copies of the documents to serve your spouse.

If you've chosen to turn everything in by mail, you'll receive these copies in the mail. You'll need to serve the petition or complaint to your spouse quickly after filing. You have up to 90 days, but the sooner, the better. The sooner your spouse is served, the sooner the divorce can proceed.

You cannot serve your spouse on your own. As such, you'll need a constable or a sheriff in Massachusetts. They'll serve your spouse with the petition or complaint, the summons, a track assignment notice, and any other necessary documentation.

Whether you're using a sheriff or constable, they will have to deliver the paperwork to your spouse in person. Once they've located your spouse at home or elsewhere, they'll send you a completed Proof of Service. It may come directly to you or the courts.

The courts will notify you if whoever is serving your spouse cannot find them after legitimate attempts. From here, you'll need to file a motion with the courts known as a Motion for Alternative Service asking that the service be done via publication or mailing the paperwork to your spouse.

Financial Disclosures

Regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, both spouses must fill out financial disclosure forms. In Massachusetts, there are two types of financial disclosure forms known as the short and long-form.

The short form is only four pages, whereas the longer one is nine. Luckily, you don't need to fill out both forms. Just be sure you understand the requirements for each document and complete the correct one.

The one requirement that applies to both forms is that you must be going through a divorce, separate support, paternity, modification, or contempt case. You could also be experiencing any other case involving child support, property division, or alimony to fill out either the short or long financial form. The main difference depends on your income.

For the short financial form, you'll need to have a gross annual income of less than $75,000.

Even if you meet this income stipulation, you may need to fill out additional forms with the short form. For example, if you have rental property income or are self-employed, you'll need two other documents.

Now, if you have a gross annual income over $75,000, you may have to fill out the long financial disclosures.

Key Takeaways
There are four crucial steps to take once you've decided what type of divorce you're filing for. You'll need to gather all your documents, prepare them, and then file them with the courts. Once your spouse has been served, you'll both need to fill out financial disclosures.

Online Divorce in Massachusetts

In addition to the forms available through the court system, Massachusetts residents have the option of using an online service to file for divorce.

Online divorce services will allow you to input your information to prepare your documents cheaply, quickly and easily.

If your divorce is straightforward, this may be a good option for you.

You can save money on attorneys and additional fees and ensure that your documents are filled out and filed correctly.

This is a faster, more accessible way to move on from this portion of your life while also providing the peace of mind you need while navigating this complex process.

The advantages of using an online divorce service are not having to hire an attorney and saving money, guaranteeing that your documents are filled out correctly, and a shorter divorce process.

The downside to these services is that they are not available for contested or contentious divorces, and they do still charge a fee that usually falls in the $100-$400 range.

Which is a small price to pay for the valuable help they can provide you and guaranteeing that the court accepts your divorce paperwork.

How to Qualify For an Online Divorce in Massachusetts

To use an online divorce system, your case must be uncontested.

Uncontested means that you and your spouse agree on all matters and are willing to get divorced.

If you are proceeding with an uncontested divorce and you meet both the grounds requirements and the residency requirements in Massachusetts, you may qualify to utilize online divorce services.

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Do You Still Need to Go to Court?

If you are using an online divorce service, you are still required to file the forms yourself.

Although some online divorce services will do this for you for an additional fee.

Because your divorce is uncontested, you do not need to litigate in court, however, you will still need to attend an uncontested divorce hearing.

In this final divorce hearing, a probate and family court judge will review your divorce agreement and finalize your divorce judgment.

Key Takeaways
Online divorce services provide a quick and easy way to get divorced in Massachusetts, often without appearing in court except for the final hearing. This online service can save you time, money, and stress – so long as your divorce is uncontested and straightforward. We recommend 3StepDivorce learn more >>

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Massachusetts?

It's difficult to say precisely how long it will take you to get a divorce in Massachusetts. Assuming you meet the residency requirements, several factors will increase or decrease your divorce timeline.

Once you've filed for divorce, you have to serve your spouse within 90 days. Your spouse then has 30 days to respond to the petition or complaint. From there, several things will prolong your divorce or make it happen pretty quickly.

Once a judge has agreed to begin your divorce based on the case brought to them, they'll sign a Separation Agreement. If that's approved, a Judgement of Divorce Nisi will be entered 30 days later. That judgment will become final 90 days after.

So, if everything goes smoothly, you can expect a judge to finalize your divorce within six months or so. That being said, divorces hardly go as smoothly as one hopes.

If you're wondering what will increase your divorce timeline, here are the main factors:

  • A contested divorce: If you're going through a contested divorce, you can expect your divorce timeline to be longer than someone going through an uncontested divorce. This happens for a number of reasons. Generally, contested divorces take longer because attorneys are involved, and you have to go through more than one hearing or litigation meeting with your spouse and their attorney. The more time you and your spouse can't agree, the longer your divorce will take.
  • Child custody and support issues: When children are involved in a divorce, it tends to prolong the timeline. This happens because spouses can't agree with the custody arrangement or child support payments. When you're constantly going back and forth, your divorce will take longer.
  • Alimony: Alimony payments are another huge factor. Sometimes, one spouse believes they should be paid alimony while the other doesn't want to pay. Or, they simply cannot agree on a number. Similar to child support, the back and forth will prolong your divorce.
  • Waiting the full 90 days to serve your spouse: Another factor is how long it takes the sheriff or constable to serve your spouse the petition or complaint. While you have 90 days after filing to serve them, the longer you wait, the longer your divorce timeline will be.
  • Courts are backed up with other cases: Depending on where you live in Massachusetts, the courts may be backed up. This happens for several reasons. If the court system in which you've filed for divorce has a backlog of cases, your divorce may take longer than expected.

There are ways to prolong your divorce timeline, and there are ways to decrease it. If you want your divorce to go quickly, here are the biggest factors:

  • Uncontested divorce: The primary way to reduce your divorce timeline is if you and your spouse are going through an uncontested divorce. Since you and your spouse are in agreement regarding everything surrounding your divorce, things should move along rather quickly.
  • Quick response to divorce petition from spouse: If your spouse responds to the divorce petition or complaint service quickly, that can decrease your divorce timeline.
  • No children involved: When you don't have children, you and your spouse won't have to go through the lengthy process of settling on child support or custody. This will drastically speed up your divorce timeline.
Key Takeaways
When it comes to getting a divorce in Massachusetts, your divorce can be finalized in as little as a few months to years. It truly depends on your situation and whether or not you and your spouse can agree on the terms of your divorce.

Divorce Costs in Massachusetts

Divorces can be expensive – there's no way around it. There are several different costs to consider before filing. Knowing what all you may or may not need to pay for can help you plan when you're ready to file for divorce.

Besides the initial filing fee, there are plenty more fees. Generally speaking, uncontested divorces tend to be more affordable than contested divorces. Uncontested divorces are cheaper because you're not hiring attorneys, or even if you are, you're spending much less time in court or litigation.

The average divorce in Massachusetts is about $12,000 and the more intense cases can cost well over $100,000.

Depending on your situation, you may be spending more than the average person to begin a new chapter of your life. Here are a few things to look out for that will increase the cost:

  • If you're going through a contested divorce
  • If you need to hire a divorce attorney
  • If you need to take on your spouse's divorce costs in addition to your own
  • If you have to attend more litigation and mediation sessions than the average person

Now, there are ways to keep costs for your divorce low. It's essential to remain realistic, understanding that you will still need to spend a few thousand dollars. Yet, there are few ways to decrease the cost of your divorce, including the following:

  • You've filed for an uncontested divorce
  • You and your spouse are avoiding hiring attorneys
  • If you're only paying for your portion of the divorce
  • If your spouse is paying for your share of the divorce
  • You choose mediation instead of litigation

As you budget for your divorce and create a game plan, it's critical to understand the types of costs that will arise. Below are several different costs you may or may not incur throughout your divorce.

Court Fees

Court fees tend to be the initial filing fees. As the petitioner, you're responsible for paying the filing fees. This is typically how filing for divorce goes. However, sometimes the defendant covers the filing fee, or both spouses share the cost for a joint divorce.

These tend to be a few hundred dollars regardless of where you live in the country. Overall, the price you can expect to pay is $220 in Massachusetts.

Attorney Fees

If you're not hiring an attorney for your divorce, you won't need to worry about this potential cost. Attorney fees tend to be one of, if not the most expensive, part of filing for divorce.

Every attorney is going to have a different price. Whether they charge hourly or have varying flat rates for certain services, you'll want to consider their cost when hiring one. In Massachusetts, a reasonable divorce attorney typically charges anywhere from $200 to $500 an hour.

Some attorneys will charge you a retainer fee. This is the initial cost to have an attorney for future services. Attorneys can choose their retainer rate, but it tends to be between $1,000 and $2,500.

If you and your spouse are going through an uncontested but still hiring lawyers, that hourly price may not be that unreasonable to you. Since the divorce shouldn't take as long as contested divorces, you'll be spending significantly less money on attorney fees.

Besides the attorney's hourly rate, you may be responsible for paying for other services they offer. You'll want to talk about these when you're interviewing attorneys. Some additional attorney fees you may incur are:

  • Payments for your attorney's office mailing any necessary documents
  • The cost of the stamps required to mail or ship boxes
  • If your attorney charges for travel time differently than their hourly rate
  • Fees for drafting any additional documents pertinent to your divorce

Most of the time, attorneys won't put their prices on their websites. The best way to go about learning how much their time will cost you is just to ask. You can do this during the initial consultation or on the phone before you schedule that meeting.

Litigation Costs

Besides attorney fees, litigation costs are up there with the most expensive parts of getting a divorce. Litigation is where you, your spouse, and separate attorneys will meet and discuss the terms of your divorce.

In contested divorces, you'll likely attend litigation more than once. The more turbulent your divorce is, the more time you'll be going through litigation and, therefore, spending more money.

If you and your spouse agree with everything, you can avoid any litigation sessions. This will save you both a lot of time and money throughout the divorce process.

Even though attorney fees are costly, the more you and your spouse attend litigation, that's where you see divorces begin costing well over $50,000 per spouse. Most spouses split the litigation bill in half since they're both involved.

Sometimes, one spouse will pay the entirety of the litigation costs because they make more money, or they'll pay the majority. Everyone's situation is a little different, but either way, litigation is very costly.


For spouses who can spend more than five minutes with one another without a significant amount of conflict, mediation may be the way to go.

It's significantly more affordable than litigation. Since mediation doesn't require lawyers, you can save on incredibly high hourly rates. Plus, mediation doesn't happen in a courtroom like litigation so you don't have to make trips to the courthouse and have formal meetings. It's a more relaxed and affordable way to handle your divorce.

Even though meditation will bring your total divorce costs down, it's not free. You and your spouse will need to hire someone to mediate the meeting. This person isn't a lawyer but someone who will sit in and listen to you two speak to each other. They're not there to interfere unless they need to.

How much a mediator costs will vary depending on the person. Some mediators charge hourly like attorneys, whereas others will charge a flat rate. Either way, the cost of a mediator is 90% cheaper than paying for attorneys and going through litigation sessions.

That being said, just because you won't have your attorneys in the room for mediation doesn't mean you shouldn't seek their counsel. Having an attorney on retainer to review the terms you and your spouse have come to can ensure the divorce terms are fair and what you want.

Online Divorce Service

Online divorce services are another helpful way to cut down the total cost of your divorce. Many online divorce services only charge a few hundred dollars.

These services will help guide you as you gather all the necessary documents for your divorce, but you'll still need to see someone in person to officially file.

That being said, in Massachusetts, even if you pay for an online divorce service, you'll still be incurring other costs because online divorces only help you with the initial paperwork. Some online divorce services include those fees in their total costs, while others don't.

There are several online divorce options available. Almost all of them offer you the guidance to fill out the initial divorce paperwork without needing an attorney.

Some services will cover different things in addition to the initial filing guidance. As an added plus, some services will even offer users a money-back guarantee if the courts don't accept your paperwork. You'll want to look into the options to find the best one for you.

While online divorce services are fantastic tools, they aren't going to finalize your divorce. You'll still need to pay court fees, potentially attorney fees, and other costs associated with a divorce.

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Key Takeaways
Divorces can be expensive, totaling a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Uncontested divorces are often cheaper because you and your spouse can avoid attorneys. On the other hand, contested divorces are more costly due to lengthy litigation sessions and attorney fees.

Custody Considerations in Massachusetts

Arguably the most challenging part about getting a divorce is if children are involved. Whether you and your spouse are in agreement or not, you'll need to come up with a custody arrangement for the children that's in their best interest.

Ideally, you and your spouse would be able to come up with an agreement on your own. This would mean you both are 100% in agreement about who has the kids and when. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen like that very often.

Most of the time, both spouses want sole custody and aren't willing to have joint custody. When both spouses can care for the children, joint custody is the way the courts prefer to go. Sometimes one spouse is better equipped to have sole custody of the children, and that's when the judge will step in.

Whether you and your spouse agree about the custody of the children or not, figuring out what type of custody agreement will be best for the kids is essential.

In Massachusetts, the law requires judges to determine custody based on the needs of the children. Under this law, neither parent is initially cited as the better one to have custody of the other. This law allows the judge a lot of discretion when making their custody decision.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is pretty self-explanatory. A judge grants one spouse sole custody of the children from the marriage. Usually, in exclusive custody agreements, one spouse will have the children the majority of the time. They tend to have sole control over the child's medical decisions.

With sole custody, the other spouse may have visitation rights, or they might not. The visitation rights could be supervised or unsupervised. This decision typically falls to the judge's discretion and what the sole custody parent is comfortable with.

Joint Custody

Most judges prefer to award joint custody to both spouses. In a perfect world, both parents are equally involved in their children's lives.

How a joint custody agreement works will vary in different situations. Some spouses agree to one having custody during the weekdays and the other on weekends. Others prefer to switch off weekends and weekdays.

In a joint custody agreement, both parents will have legal custody regardless of how often the children are at each parent's home. Legal custody means that they can both make serious decisions about the child's health and educational decisions.

Factors Considered When Awarding Custody

Under Massachusetts law, the judge must begin each custody hearing under the impression that both spouses are on an equal playing field regarding their ability to parent.

Even though that's how it starts, some considerations can influence how a judge will determine custody. Some factors that may affect a judge's decision are:

  • Each parent's ability to financially support the child with and without child support
  • Each parent's physical and mental health
  • Each parent's history or lack thereof of physical, emotional, or substance abuse
  • Each parent's relationship to the children
  • The child's preference if they're old enough to make an informed decision

These are just a few of the factors that may or may not influence a judge's decision when it comes to custody. Some elements will weigh heavily on the judge's decision, while others may not be as important.

For example, regardless of the child's preference, if the parent has a history of child abuse, that will definitely influence the judge to side against that parent heavily. On the other hand, substance abuse is a factor, but as long as the parent is sober and doing well, it may not be as crucial as others to the judge's decision.

Key Takeaways
When you're ready to split from your spouse, considering who will have custody of the children should be high on your list of priorities. A judge will determine custody, giving preference to a joint custody agreement.

Child Support Considerations in Massachusetts

You can't have child custody talks without considering child support. When you're filing for divorce and considering who will have what form of custody, it's natural that child support payments come up during discussions.

Like other states, both parents in Massachusetts are required by law to support their children in one way or another, whether by having custody of the child or providing regular child support payments.

When it comes to child support payments, a judge will determine an appropriate amount. Even if you and your spouse can come to an agreement, a judge will have to approve it. When choosing child support payments, a judge will look at factors like:

  • You and your spouse's income
  • Which parent pays for the healthcare of the children
  • The ages of the children
  • Which parent has the children overnight more
  • Alimony or child support either parent is paying or receiving from another marriage

Whether you're requesting that your spouse pay you child support or you're the one who will need to pay, several things can increase your child support payments. If you're going to be receiving child support payments, here's what will increase your earnings:

  • Your spouse has a higher salary or earning potential: When your spouse has a high salary, they're able to pay more for child support. If they receive a raise while paying child support, you may see an increase in your child support checks.
  • Your children are younger: The younger the children, the more money is needed. Most of the time, this is due to children outgrowing clothes and shoes faster than older children. Plus, diapers, baby formula, and other necessities tend to be more expensive for younger kids.
  • The number of children: How many children you have in your house will affect your child support—the more children, the more money you need to support them and vice versa.

Just as there are factors that can increase the amount you receive in child support, numerous factors can lower it. Here are a few factors that can reduce the amount you'll receive in child support payments:

  • Your spouse loses their job or has a pay reduction: If your spouse loses their job and, therefore, their ability to pay child support, you'll see a drastic reduction in child support payments. The same goes for if you earn a raise at a job or find a higher-paying position.
  • Your income changes drastically or surpasses your spouse's: Generally, the spouse receiving child support may not make as much as the spouse paying. If you get a new job or end up earning more than your spouse, the courts may decide to reduce your child support payments.
  • Your children are getting older: As your children age, you may see a decrease in the amount on your child support checks. The checks may be smaller since you won't need the money for diapers, formula, and other expensive baby things.
Key Takeaways
After child custody, child support is a significant decision in your divorce. Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to come up with a number you're both comfortable with, but if you can't, a judge will factor in each spouse's income and expenses to come up with an amount.

Alimony Considerations in Massachusetts

You may have heard alimony referred to as maintenance. Either term is appropriate. Alimony is payments to one spouse to help them financially get back on their feet or stay on their feet post-divorce. In Massachusetts, there are three types of alimony:

  • Transitional alimony
  • Rehabilitative alimony
  • General term alimony

Transitional Alimony

Transitional alimony was designed to help you or your spouse get back on their feet after the divorce. This type of alimony can last as long as three years, but sometimes it's less. It will end on a specified date listed in the alimony order, and it cannot be extended.

Transitional alimony may end earlier than the date listed on the order if the spouse receiving alimony gets married prior to that date or if either spouse passes away first.

Rehabilitative Alimony

Rehabilitative alimony is similar to transitional alimony in that it can last for a certain period of time and ends on a specific date. Rehabilitative alimony can last for up to five years, and a judge can extend it under certain circumstances.

This type of alimony will end on the specified date listed in the alimony order. It can end earlier if the spouse receiving alimony gets married before the date or if either spouse passes away.

General Term Alimony

General term alimony doesn't have a specified amount of time it can last. There will be an end date potentially listed on the alimony order, but it's dependent on how long the marriage lasted. The shorter the marriage, the shorter the general term alimony.

Like the other types of alimony, the general term alimony will end when the receiving spouse gets remarried or when either spouse passes away. A judge may also terminate or reduce alimony when the receiving spouse moves in with an intimate partner.

Factors That Affect Alimony

When a judge determines how much alimony you'll receive, there are a few factors that will increase your alimony payments:

  • No salary or low income: If you don't have a job, a judge is likely to grant you alimony. This payment will help you pay for your lifestyle while searching for a new position or one that pays better than your previous one.
  • You can't live your marriage lifestyle without alimony payments: Sometimes, a judge will grant alimony to supplement your income, so your lifestyle reflects the one you lived when you were married.
  • Married a long time: What a judge determines as a “lengthy” period of time is up to their opinion. The longer you've been married, the more likely they're going to grant you alimony.

Likewise, there are reasons a judge will award you a lower alimony amount, deny you alimony, or terminate your alimony agreement:

  • You make more money than your spouse: When you make more money than your spouse, there's a good chance you will have no alimony payment or a very low one. Instead, your spouse will likely receive alimony.
  • You've gotten remarried: As stated in the alimony laws, if you get remarried during the period of time you're receiving alimony, you will no longer receive alimony payments.
  • You've moved in with an intimate partner: Per Massachusetts law, if you're dating someone post-divorce and decide to live together, your alimony can be decreased or ceased.
  • Your spouse passes away: Unfortunately, if your ex-spouse passes away, you can say goodbye to your alimony payments as well. When you move in with an intimate partner while receiving alimony, your ex-spouse can petition to reduce your alimony payments.
Key Takeaways
Massachusetts has three types of alimony: transitional, rehabilitative, and general term alimony. A judge determines what kind of alimony, if any, you receive by looking at income, lifestyle, length of the marriage, and more.

Division of Assets

In an ideal divorce, you and your spouse can agree on how to divide all your assets without having to get a judge's involvement. When you can agree on the division of assets, you'll need a judge to give their approval.

Unfortunately, it's not often that both spouses fully agree on how to divide their assets. When this happens, a judge will have the final say. Massachusetts is not a community property state, meaning they follow an equitable division of assets.

An equitable division of assets means that the division may not be an even split but will be fair. Even though they still recognize marital and separate property, this law allows judges to divide separate property if they deem it equitable.

Typically, a judge will assign a monetary value to all assets, even if they don't already come with a financial value.

Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to the equitable division of assets in a divorce. A judge will use their own judgment to decide based on these factors for each spouse:

  • Their source – or sources – of income
  • Their age
  • Their health and stage of life
  • Each spouse's liability or needs
  • The estate belonging to each spouse
  • Their potential for more income down the line

Real Estate

Any real estate acquired during the marriage is considered marital property. A judge will determine who gets the house or other property based on what they deem fair. For example, if one spouse has been living in the marital home, they'll most likely give it to the spouse living in the home.

401k, IRAs, Investments

You and your spouse's 401k, IRAs, and investments are up for division as your divorce looms. Generally, a judge will grant you what was yours prior to your marriage and whatever you've earned once you were married.

The judge will take into consideration what is fair in the divorce. If one spouse has several assets under these categories while the other doesn't, they may give the spouse without any 401k, IRAs, and investments some of the other spouses to keep it fair.


If you had a business before getting married, the judge would most likely let you keep it all to yourself. Even if you opened a business during the marriage, but it's all in your name, the judge tends to favor the business owner.

That being said, you'll need to keep in mind that if the judge thinks it's fair to divide the business or businesses as an asset, you will have to share.

Other Assets

Other assets can be any number of things. A judge can consider cars, boats, bank accounts, and more assets. These tend to be easier to divide. For example, a judge will generally grant each spouse their own car, pending the couple had more than one car. If a boat is in question, it'll most likely go to the spouse who uses it the most.

Key Takeaways
Massachusetts is not a community property state. A judge will do all division of assets during a divorce equitably. The division of assets may not be split equally, but it will always be deemed fair in the eyes of the law.

Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Massachusetts

Common-law marriage is when two people have been together for a long time, considering themselves to be married. They've been living as a married couple, but they never purchased a marriage license in the state they live in.

As of 2021, only eight states still allow common law marriage, and six recognize it if formed before a certain date. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is not one of them.

Even if you consider yourself in a common-law marriage while living in Massachusetts, the state doesn't legally recognize this marriage. In a way, it makes things easier if you want to separate from your spouse. Since there is no marriage certificate legally, you don't need to pay court fees and even hire a lawyer.

While Massachusetts doesn't recognize common law marriage formed in their state, if you and your spouse began your common law marriage in a state where it's legal, Massachusetts will acknowledge your marriage.

Key Takeaways
Common-law marriage isn't a legal practice in Massachusetts. While the legal system in Massachusetts will recognize a common-law marriage if formed in a state where it's legal, they won't if you started it in Massachusetts. This stipulation makes separation easier for those living together since they don't need to go through the entire divorce process.

Alternatives to Divorce in Massachusetts

Divorce isn't always the easiest choice to make. Whether you're the one seeking the divorce or on the other end, if you're not 100% ready to go through a divorce, there are some alternatives to consider first.

While these are some great options for people to consider before filing for divorce, they're not the right solution for everyone. Some may seem a bit out of the ordinary, but you won't know if it works for you and your spouse until you try.

Legal Separation

A legal separation is a good option for many couples to consider before officially filing for divorce. Instead of jumping directly to a costly divorce, many people choose some time apart.

During a legal separation, the spouses aren't allowed to live together. This obligated time apart acts as a trial period for how being divorced would be. In Massachusetts, they don't have what many states consider to be a legal separation.

If you're considering divorce in Massachusetts, you and your spouse can have a trial separation instead of a legal separation. This trial involves you both living apart from one another and living as if you are divorced.

When children are involved, you'll still be in each other's lives to a certain extent so that you can both parent your kids. If there are no kids involved, it will almost seem like you're single.

Separations are wonderful tools to see if you genuinely want to split up from your partner. You can determine how long you want the separation to last and then discuss the next steps after that period. You may find you don't want to divorce your spouse, or it may solidify your previous feelings.


An annulment is a legal process that essentially makes it so that the marriage never existed. Even if you're livid with your spouse and would rather pretend the marriage never happened, not everyone will qualify for an annulment.

When you file for and receive an annulment, the marriage is considered void, and you never have to say you were married unless you want to. As nice as an annulment may sound to you, not everyone is eligible for one.

If you're wondering whether your marriage will qualify for an annulment or not, here are the requirements:

  • The marriage happened under duress
  • Your spouse has more than one legal spouse you were unaware of
  • You were underage at the time of the wedding without parental consent
  • Your spouse committed fraud

Work It Out Together

Sometimes people are quick to jump to divorce when they could try to work things out together. Obviously, this isn't going to work for everyone, but it's with a shot. Instead of heading down to the courthouse to file for divorce while you're running on emotions, trying to talk things out may be the solution for you.

Working it out can look different for everyone. Some people choose to do a trial separation, others prefer counseling, and others try to talk things out amongst themselves. If you really want to try and work things out, a combination of these three tactics is better than only one.

Seek Counseling

Seeking counseling is one of the most popular and common alternatives to divorce. It's usually one of the first steps people take before ultimately ending their marriage. Finding and going to a qualified marriage counselor can help you and your spouse get to the root of your problems and perhaps find a solution.

In addition to couples counseling, seeking individual counseling can help you come together as a couple again. It allows you to work not only on your marriage but yourselves at the same time.

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Open Marriage

Trying an open marriage isn't the most conventional alternative, but it's a great option if you and your spouse are both open to the idea. Open marriages aren't as standard in the United States, but they're very popular in other countries. They're also rising in popularity here.

Before you even consider proposing an open marriage to your spouse, you'll want to go in with boundaries and rules in mind. Having boundaries and rules that you're both comfortable with is the crucial element in making an open marriage work.

You'll need to know if you're allowed to tell your spouse about another person you're seeing or not. From there, how much do you each want to know? An open marriage allows you and your spouse to get what you feel is missing from your marriage elsewhere. It doesn't work for everyone, but there's plenty of happy couples in an open marriage.

The best part about an open marriage is that you can learn as you go, and it may be the best thing that's ever happened to you and your spouse.

Parenting Marriage

If kids are involved, a parenting marriage may be an option for you and your spouse. Essentially, a parenting marriage is a sort of arrangement that you and your spouse come up with so that you can live your independent lives while co-parenting to the best of your ability.

In a parenting marriage, both spouses agree to raise their children together while being single. Some choose to live together while others take turns living in the primary household so that one parent is always with the children.

As with an open marriage, a parenting marriage requires boundaries. Even though you and your partner won't be together anymore, you'll still be heavily involved in each other's lives. If you don't want to hear about your co-parent seeing someone else, make that known early on.

Key Takeaways
Before you jump the gun and file for divorce, there are a few alternatives you may want to consider first. Some are more conventional such as counseling and separations, while others are more unconventional such as parenting or open marriage.