Divorce in Massachusetts
Divorce statistics claim 6 out of 10 marriages currently end in divorce. If you are considering filing divorce in Massachusetts, you are not alone. Whether you have feelings of relief or disappoint as you consider your Massachusetts divorce, it is important to understand the issues of divorce. A professional Massachusetts divorce lawyer can ensure your have the divorce information your need to make good decisions for you and your family.
Hiring a Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer
Filing divorce in Massachusetts should only be made after discussing your divorce case with a divorce lawyer. Hiring a Massachusetts divorce attorney is especially important if you have child support or child custody issues or if you have property which must be distributed. Divorce is never easy, but a good Massachusetts divorce lawyer can help make the transition easier for you. Massachusetts divorce attorneys can answer your Massachusetts divorce questions and make sure your family is protected.
Children and Divorce in Massachusetts
Child custody issues are generally the hardest issues to resolve in a Massachusetts divorce or legal separation. Ideally, the parents agree on a child custody arrangement, but if this is not possible, Massachusetts courts will make the determination for custody based on what they determine is best for the child. Massachusetts courts can also make their own determination if they decide that the parent’s agreement is not in the best interest of the child.
Massachusetts child custody laws allow custody to be awarded to either parent without favor or prejudice. Section 208:31 of the General Laws of Massachusetts states that the court “when considering the happiness and welfare of the child, the court shall consider whether or not the child’s present or past living conditions adversely affect his physical, mental, moral or emotional health”.
Child custody laws vary by state, but in general, the Massachusetts court will consider the following when determining the child custody arrangement:
- The desires of the parents
- The desires of the child
- The status of the relationship between the parents and the child.
- The ages of each child.
- The mental and physical health of the children and the parents
- The ability and willingness of the parents to facilitate and encourage the relationship of the child with the other parent
- How much care each parent has provided to the child
- Whether each parent is able to provide a loving and stable environment
- The living accommodations of each home
- The parent’s ability to provide emotional, physical and medical needs to the child.
- Whether there is evidence of abuse by either parent
- How much the child would need to adjust to their home, school, environment and community
- Whether there is evidence of false allegations of abuse by either parent
- Whether the child will be drastically affected by disrupting their current custody arrangement
Massachusetts Child Support Laws
Massachusetts child support laws were formulated to ensure both parents, whether married or unmarried, provide for their children. Every state has established their state laws and guidelines to help the court determine how much child support is required from each parent in each divorce case.
Massachusetts courts will determine child support payment amounts by analyzing the following: the parent’s income, the number of children, and the age of the children. Each state has its own guideline formula to determine how much child support should be paid in a given situation. The court will establish child support, while giving due consideration to the following principles:
- To encourage each parent to responsibly provide support or a percentage of their income to care for their child
- To provide the child with a standard of living that is comparable to what they would have experienced if their family remained together
- To minimize the financial impact of the divorce on the child
- To allow for child support and wage assignments that may be lowered or increased as the supporting parents income changes.
- To evaluate and consider the non-monetary contributions of both parents
- To reduce the level of administration from the court
- To allow the child to not only survive, but if the parents have a higher standard of living, allow the child to experience the higher living standard
Under Massachusetts state law, biological and adoptive parents must pay child support until the child reaches the age of maturity, which is generally 18 years old, or until they graduate high school. If a child is emancipated or joins the military a parent may also discontinue Massachusetts child support payments.
Massachusetts Divorce Laws
Massachusetts couples wishing to file for divorce must file a Complaint for Divorce or a Petition for Divorce in the appropriate Massachusetts court. Massachusetts divorce law allows for the dissolution of marriage under no-fault and fault grounds.
Massachusetts no-fault marriage may be filed on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Massachusetts couples may also file on fault grounds which include:
- Adultery – you must prove your spouse had a sexual relationship outside of your marriage with another person.
- Impotency – your spouse was not able to have sex.
- Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication which are caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs.
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- Desertion for at least one year prior to filing the divorce complaint
- Gross or wanton and cruel refusal to provide suitable support and maintenance for you and your family. The refusal to provide support must be shown to potentially lead to injury of your life, limb or health and may cause a danger of injury.
- A spouse has been confined to a penal institution for 5 years to life.
All claims must be substantiated in court with evidence or testimony or the court may choose to dismiss the case. Talk to a Massachusetts divorce lawyer prior to filing for divorce to ensure your understand the legal repercussions of your divorce decisions. More information can be found in Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, Sections: 1, 1A, 1B and 2.
Massachusetts Divorce Residency Requirements
All states have residency requirements for divorce which must be met prior to filing for dissolution of marriage. In the state of Massachusetts you must meet the following criteria:
- The couple must have lived as husband and wife and the grounds for the Massachusetts divorce must have occurred in the state; or
- The couple must have lived as husband and wife in Massachusetts and one of the parties lived there when the grounds for the Massachusetts divorce occurred, regardless of where the event occurred; or
- You must live in the state for at least one year after filing the Massachusetts divorce papers if the grounds for the divorce occurred in another state; or
- You must live in Massachusetts when you file for Massachusetts divorce and the grounds for the Massachusetts divorce occurred in Massachusetts
Alimony in Massachusetts
Massachusetts alimony payments may be made to either the husband or wife. Massachusetts alimony is paid to provide financial support to one spouse. It is most often required for long-term marriages or where the earning capacity of one spouse is significantly higher than the other spouse.
If the marriage has not lasted very long or both spouses have equal incomes or earning abilities, it is less likely to be awarded by the Massachusetts court. Prior to assigning alimony, the court will review a variety of factors including:
- The length of the marriage
- The conduct of each party during the marriage
- The health of each spouse
- The spouse’s occupation
- The spouse’s age
- The amount and sources of each party’s income
- The spouse’s vocational skills and the ability of the receiving spouse to gain employment
- The estate of each party including their assets and liabilities
- The financial needs of each spouse
- The opportunity of each spouse to acquire capital assets and income in the future
The specifics of your divorce case, your asset and liabilities, child support, etc. will differ from other Massachusetts divorce cases. Contact a Massachusetts divorce lawyer prior to filing a Massachusetts divorce. More information can be found in the General Laws of Massachusetts, Section 208:34.
Legal Separation in Massachusetts
Legal separation in Massachusetts is not legally recognized, but the state does allow a similar process called Complaint for Separate Support or a separation agreement. A Complaint for Separate Support will allow couples to live separately and independently and remain married, but determine issues of child custody, property distribution and child custody.
Legal separation is different than a divorce; it does not legally dissolve a marriage. For the agreement to be considered valid by the state of Massachusetts, both parties in the marriage must sign either the Complaint for Separate Support or the separation agreement. Neither spouse can be forced to sign either. If either spouse chooses to remarry, the couple must first get a Massachusetts divorce. Serious consideration should be made prior to separating, and it may be a good idea to talk to a Massachusetts divorce lawyer.
Annulment in Massachusetts
Massachusetts annulments differ from divorces. Unlike a divorce which terminates the marriage, an annulment can “undo” the marriage and under the law the marriage never existed. A Massachusetts marriage may be considered “void” for the following reasons:
- Consanguinity – the couple was too closely related by blood
- Affinity – the couple was too closely related by marriage
- Bigamy – one spouse was already married at the time of the second marriage (an annulment will only be granted if the marrying spouse was unaware of the first spouse).
Marriages may also be considered voidable if the following has occurred:
- One spouse lacked the mental capacity to marry. This could be the result of an under-aged marriage or if one spouse is considered mentally incompetent to make a decision regarding marriage.
- The marriage was the result of fraud.
- Either spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and could not make a clear decision to marry.