Massachusetts Divorce Law
How Does Divorce Work in Massachusetts?
Like any other state, Massachusetts divorce law has evolved to adapt to changes in American culture. The state’s earliest divorce laws required proof of fault in order for a divorce to be granted. In the past, a person who was unhappy in a marriage would have needed to accuse their spouse of unfaithfulness or abandonment for the court to approve the divorce. Today, the state’s law and courts take a much more modern approach to divorce.
One thing that has not changed in Massachusetts divorce law is the need for representation from an experienced family law firm. Miller Law Group, P.C. is proud to be this firm for thousands of our neighbors. We approach every case pragmatically, strategizing with clients to meet their needs. Our team knows that our work can affect the rest of a client’s life. So, we create divorce agreements designed for both present and future success. As expert negotiators, we’ll work with the other side to reach a fair result for clients. However, if the other side is unwilling to be fair, we will never hesitate to pursue a fair resolution in court.
If you have questions about Massachusetts divorce law, call Miller Law Group, P.C. today for a free consultation. A member of our team is ready to talk when you call (508) 502-7002.
Divorce in Massachusetts
As mentioned above, divorce in Massachusetts used to be based on "fault." So, if someone wanted to leave their spouse, they had to prove some wrongdoing such as infidelity, abuse, or other wrongful acts. Echoes of our early laws still remain; the state still designates divorces as "fault" or "no fault," so it’s important to understand the difference between these two types of divorces.
No-Fault Divorce in MA
No-fault divorce occurs when a couple mutually agrees that they can no longer repair their marriage, and it is in their best interest to end it. Massachusetts refers to a no-fault divorce as a solution for an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage.”
There are two types of no-fault divorce in Massachusetts:
- 1A: For this no-fault divorce, both spouses must agree to a divorce and both spouses must agree to a plan that includes child support, parenting time, child custody, and the division of assets.
- 1B: This type of no-fault divorce occurs when both parties agree that they want a divorce but cannot agree on the terms of separation.
Fault Divorce in MA
Fault divorce is useful for someone who wants a divorce from an uncooperative, abusive, or absent spouse. If a person can prove their spouse's wrongful actions were the cause for the divorce, they'll be more likely to get a favorable outcome for themselves in court or mediation.
Grounds for a fault divorce include the following:
- Abusive or controlling treatment
- Substance abuse
- Desertion (at least one year)
- Imprisonment (five years or more)
Division of Property During a Massachusetts Divorce
One of the most contested aspects of a divorce is the division of property. Some couples are able to agree quickly to terms for the division of their property while others might fiercely contest property division at every opportunity. When couples agree on the terms of their property division, they will need to draft a property settlement agreement. Hiring a Massachusetts divorce attorney is the best way to ensure that this agreement is legally sound and designed to last. Disagreements regarding property division should be resolved during negotiations. However, if two people cannot negotiate an agreement on their own, the court will divide assets according to the judge's discretion.
When the court divides property, it will do so according to what is equitable, but not necessarily what is equal. This means the court will divide your marriage property based on what it deems to be fair to both parties.
Courts consider the following for property division:
- Length of the marriage
- The earning capacity of both spouses
- Both spouses’ role in the home during marriage
- The needs of any children in the marriage
- How much each spouse contributed to the acquisition of property
- The age and health of both parties
Messy or lengthy property division negotiations can be mitigated with a prenuptial agreement. These legal documents are typically signed before marriage and set the terms for asset division prior to divorce. However, Massachusetts courts will closely examine prenuptial agreements during divorce and may override or modify a prenuptial agreement if the judge finds it unfair or unlawful. If a couple decides to sign a prenuptial agreement, they should do so with the help of an attorney who can ensure it will be enforceable and approved by the court if the time comes.
Alimony Laws in Massachusetts
Alimony is also known as spousal support or maintenance, and it describes the regular payments one spouse makes to another after a divorce. Massachusetts courts handle alimony similarly to property division. There is no set amount or percentage of a person’s wages that they must pay for alimony. Instead, just as with property division, a court considers the financial situation of each spouse to determine who pays alimony and how much. Alimony is not always permanent and may taper with time or be modified at the request of one or both parties.
Child Custody & Support in Massachusetts
Massachusetts courts determine child custody arrangements (or "parenting plans") based on what is most beneficial for the child. The agreement will include where a child lives, who has legal custody of a child, and whether parents will share physical or legal custody. Courts use various factors to determine child custody, including the child’s health, the health of parents, as well as schooling, healthcare, income, and community.
Child custody has the following categories in Massachusetts:
- Sole Legal Custody: This type of custody provides one parent with the right to make major legal decisions for a child such a healthcare, education, and religious upbringing.
- Shared Legal Custody: This type of custody means that both parents are involved in making significant decisions for a child.
- Sole Physical Custody: Sole physical custody means that a child's lives with one parent. The other parent might be granted visitation rights if the court decides it would benefit the child. Modern judges often recognize that a child benefits from having both parents in his or her life.
- Shared Physical Custody: This type of custody means a child splits time between residing with both parents. It ensures that a child sees both parents if the court decides that it would be in their best interest.
In some cases, a Massachusetts court will provide sole custody to one parent and order the other to pay child support. Massachusetts uses the Income Shares Method to determine the amount of child support a spouse should pay or that a spouse might need. Child support typically lasts until the age of 18. In some cases, support for education may be extended by the court.
Legal Separation in Massachusetts
Many states have a process known as legal separation. This process is useful for couples who wish to live apart but aren't committed to divorce yet. Typically, legal separation maintains their married status while allowing them to live independently of each other. Couples may choose this option to preserve health insurance or continue retirement benefits that would be otherwise terminated by divorce.
In Massachusetts, there is no option for legal separation. However, the state does offer something known as separate support that is like legal separation. Separate support allows a person to pursue financial support from their partner under specific circumstances.
One of the following must be shown by a spouse to obtain separate support:
- The individual has no justifiable reason to withhold support
- The defendant has deserted the plaintiff
- The spouses are living separately for justifiable reasons
- The spouses do not live separately, but one has a justifiable reason to do so
Essentially, a person must prove justifiable cause to a judge to have separate support granted. Justifiable cause includes abuse, adultery, or desertion. Those filing for separate support must do so in the same county their spouse resides in.
Divorce Is Emotional, But Your Legal Representation Should be Logical.
Every divorce has a unique set of circumstances. However, every person who needs a divorce has one thing in common: they need experienced legal counsel. While divorces are an emotional process, they should never be focused on revenge or “winning.” The Massachusetts family law attorneys at Miller Law Group, P.C. are ready to help you through this difficult time by helping you find lasting solutions to get you the best possible outcome for your divorce. Our team will examine your situation and help develop a divorce agreement that works for your present and future needs.
If you have questions about Massachusetts divorce law, our team is ready to help you. Call us today at (508) 502-7002 for a free consultation and to start finding answers.