Legal Separation vs. Divorce in Massachusetts

Divided Home and Family in Divorce in Massachusetts

The main difference between legal separation and divorce is that a legal separation allows a couple to live apart while remaining legally married, whereas a divorce terminates the marriage entirely. However, there is no such action as legal separation in Massachusetts.

Anyway, divorce isn’t the only option for couples going through marital troubles. They can also address the court with the request for separate support. In this article, we will discuss the specifics of this legal process, the pros and cons, and the legal consequences of separate living and divorce. We will also briefly compare them in terms of expenses.

What Is a Legal Separation in MA?

Divided family in the process of separation in MA
The decision to get a legal separation in Massachusetts depends on the financial considerations, and the desire to maintain a marital status.

When living with a spouse becomes impossible for any reason, but divorce is still not an option, people usually think about filing for legal separation. But is there legal separation in Massachusetts? No, the state doesn’t recognize such a procedure.

In other words, married people can live separately if they want to without informing the court about such a decision. However, in most cases, especially if one spouse is financially dependent on the other one or if partners have kids and want to reach fair and reasonable decisions on child support, visitation schedule, and related topics, they address the court by filing a Complaint for Separate Support and a Complaint for Custody-Support-Parenting Time.

Thus, they will live separately while still being married and have official orders on how joint property can be used, who will take care of kids on a regular basis, what the amount of child and/or spousal support will be, etc.

In some other states, a petitioner should name the reasons for legal separation. In Massachusetts, couples seeking separate support may live apart for “justifiable cause.” Usually, the reasons for separate living in the state are abuse, adultery, or desertion.

If you google the costs of filing for legal separation in Massachusetts, you can hardly find any data. You need to adjust your query and look for the cost of separate support. The fees are generally lower than expenses that arise during a divorce. They include a $100 filing fee, a $15 surcharge, and $5 for summons. When getting a divorce in Massachusetts, a filing fee is $200.

What Is a Divorce?

Broken heart with wedding rings during divorce process in MA
The difficulty of obtaining a divorce in Massachusetts is based on factors like having a mutual agreement regarding divorce, property division, and child custody issues.

When filing for divorce, spouses officially declare their desire to end a marriage. A couple may apply for a no-fault and fault-based marriage dissolution in the state. According to divorce laws in MA, a no-fault divorce can be:

  • 1A type – both spouses agree that their marriage is irretrievably broken and have a separation agreement;
  • 1B type – either one or both spouses believe in the irreparable marriage breakdown, but there is no separation agreement.

In fault-based divorce cases, a petitioner has to name a particular reason that prompted them to apply for a legal marriage ending.

Getting a divorce in Massachusetts is typically longer and more expensive than filing for separate support. Besides, contested fault-based cases generally drain more time and financial resources than uncontested marriage dissolution.

When to Choose Legal Separation Over a Divorce?

The most important difference between divorced and separated spouses is their possibility to remarry, which is legally prohibited in the second case. However, more reasons can be considered when choosing separate living over divorce:

  • Religious people often avoid divorce because it is regarded as a sin.
  • Some people are guided by financial reasons. When they are still married, they can have tax advantages, health insurance benefits, etc.
  • If spouses experience difficulties in their relationships, they can perceive a period of separate living as a trial divorce. Thus, they can understand whether a divorce is really beneficial for them both or whether it’s worth trying to save their marriage.
  • A decision to get a divorce may be more traumatic if spouses have children. So, they may opt for separate support, which some of them simply call a legal separation in MA, to help kids adapt to future changes with no rush.

When to Choose Divorce Over Legal Separation?

Woman sits and thinks about divorce in Massachusetts
Divorce terminates the legal marriage, while separation allows spouses to live apart but remain married.

When comparing separate residence and divorce, both spouses need to be honest and clearly determine their desires. For instance, when spouses are looking for finality in relationships, a divorce is the only logical option. There may also be other situations when partners should seek marriage termination:

  • When either party plans to remarry, they need to officially end the previous relationship.
  • Divorce may become an emotional closure for people tired of constant quarrels and reconciliations.
  • By dissolving marriage, spouses will cut financial ties, and each of them will acquire financial independence.
  • If one spouse or children regularly suffer from any form of abuse caused by the other party, it is better to apply for divorce and be legally protected by the law once and for all.

There are no universal guidelines on when to choose divorce over separate living or vice versa. Unfortunately, some people get confused from the very start by comparing legal separation vs divorce in Massachusetts, while the first option is not even available in the state. We hope that after reading this article, you understand what options you have. Besides, we highly recommend thoroughly evaluating your specific situation before settling on a final decision.

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