Basic Steps to Filing a Divorce in Massachusetts

Image of the steps you need to take to get a divorce in Massachusetts

If you are going to terminate your marriage officially, you may have some questions about the divorce procedure. In this article, we will describe how to file for divorce in Massachusetts and what documents to prepare. By following these steps for divorce in Massachusetts, you can manage the process more efficiently.

Step 1. Meet the Residency Requirement

The first step to divorce in Massachusetts is to ensure you comply with the state laws on residency. In most cases, the typical Massachusetts residency requirement to file for divorce is living in the state for at least one year before the commencement of the marriage dissolution case. This residency guideline aims to deter individuals from relocating to Massachusetts with the sole purpose of initiating divorce proceedings.

However, there is an exception to this rule. If the grounds for divorce arose in Massachusetts and you live there as a married couple, either spouse can file for divorce right away.

Step 2. Determine the Type of Divorce  

Depiction of two types of divorce proceedings in Massachusetts
In the state of Massachusetts, specifying the type of divorce is a crucial step of the filing process because it defines the next legal proceedings that should be taken.

The next stage of the divorce process in Massachusetts is determining how your case will be classified. Massachusetts divorce laws distinguish no-fault and fault-based marriage dissolutions. No-fault cases are divided into 2 categories – 1A divorce and 1B divorce.

When spouses choose the 1A divorce, they mutually acknowledge that their marriage has been irreparably broken and there is no way to continue living together. The parties need to prepare a separation agreement in addition to other standard divorce forms. This document details how they agreed to divide assets, arrange child custody, etc. When no partner’s misconduct took place, and you both want to end your marriage quickly and with low expenses, it is advisable to file for divorce in Massachusetts in accordance with 1A type.

In the 1B divorce scenario, only one spouse states that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, or both spouses recognize that the marriage has ended but can’t reach an agreement on divorce-related issues.

When applying for a fault-based divorce, a petitioner indicates particular grounds that prompt them to seek marriage termination. Legal reasons are:

  • Adultery;
  • Desertion for one year or longer;
  • Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication;
  • Cruel and abusive treatment;
  • Refusal to support the other spouse;
  • A prison sentence of 5 or more years.

Step 3. Complete Divorce Forms

Depending on the type of marriage dissolution, the paperwork may differ. For instance, if spouses opt for a no-fault 1A divorce, they have to prepare:

In case they apply for a no-fault 1B divorce, a petitioner has to complete:

Other forms are universal:

Spouses with minor kids also have to prepare:

Note that this list of documents is not final. You may need to prepare some additional forms based on your case specifics.

In general, paperwork can take time and effort to handle, so some spouses reach out to experts who can fill out MA divorce papers for them. The most popular option in terms of speed and finances is to order the needed documents from an online service. Nowadays, a lot of trustworthy companies can assist you with document preparation.


Step 4. File the Divorce Papers

Once you’re done with divorce paperwork in Massachusetts, you need to bring your forms to the court. Go to the Probate and Family Court in the county where you and your spouse live or where one of you currently resides.

When filing for divorce in Massachusetts, you need to pay a fee unless you qualify for a fee waiver. The sum may vary across the state, but the average cost is a $200 filing fee and $15 filing surcharge. All cases except for a no-fault 1A divorce also include a $5 summons charge. You can submit documents in person, by mail, or via an eFileMA system. 

Step 5. Serve Divorce Papers

When you are going to file for divorce in Massachusetts, namely, for 1B and fault-based marriage dissolution, remember that you’ll have to serve the papers on the other party. You should hire a sheriff or constable to hand-deliver copies of the documents. Keep in mind that you have 90 days to serve the defendant, notifying them about the initiated case.

Step 6. Wait for Response

During a divorce process in MA, a defendant has 20 days after being served to prepare a response. In the Answer to Complaint for Divorce, they can affirm or dispute statements made by a petitioner. If a respondent doesn’t reply within the stipulated period, they risk losing the right to contest matters related to child custody, alimony, property division, etc.

Step 7. Attend Court Hearing

Image of a judge's gavel and hourglass indicating a court hearing in a divorce case
Attendance at the court hearing for divorce in MA is typically required and mandatory.

Spouses need to go to the Massachusetts divorce court for a scheduled court hearing, during which the judge will consider matters such as child custody, division of assets, and other relevant topics. Both parties may present their arguments and provide evidence to support their positions. The judge may also issue temporary orders or schedule further hearings if needed.

Step 8. Obtain Judgment of Divorce

After the court hearing, if the judge approves a divorce agreement or resolves disputed issues, spouses get a temporary decision called the judgment nisi. Before it is not entered officially, spouses cannot remarry.

Step 9. Wait Until a Divorce is Final

Judgment nisi will become permanent after a nisi period of 90 days or 120 days if spouses have a no-fault 1A divorce. During this period, either party can express objections to the divorce terms, if any.

Step 10. Receive the Divorce Decree

Once the judgment is automatically entered and the case is considered finalized, the parties can receive a formal decree as an official confirmation of getting divorced in Massachusetts. Spouses may request a certified copy of their Certificate of Divorce Absolute in the court where their case was processed. They may need it to update identification documents, deal with financial transactions, remarry, etc.

Share this post: