How to File For Divorce in Massachusetts

How to file divorce in Massachusetts

Filing for Divorce in Massachusetts

If you’re contemplating a divorce in Massachusetts or you’ve already decided to move forward with filing, there are several important things to consider as you move through the process.

Thoroughly preparing for your divorce proceedings will give you a leg-up throughout the entire ordeal, and it will prevent you from making mistakes along the way.

Let’s jump in to what you’ll need to do:

Gather important information

important information

You can set the tone for how your divorce will proceed from the outset if you approach the task of gathering information the right way. Doing so can save you time, money and stress in the long haul.

You’ll also give yourself the best possible chance at the most favorable outcome if your documents and information are in order. Starting early and being organized are keys to successfully completing this task.

We’ve simplified the process for you by creating a Divorce Information Checklist you can check out in our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.

Decide how you proceed with your divorce

Divorce Procedure to Use

Once you or your spouse has made the decision to get a divorce, you need to decide how to get divorced. You have several options, driven in part by your relationship with your spouse and how well you can work together to reach a resolution.

Here are the most common types of divorce:

  • Litigation
  • Mediation
  • Collaborative divorce
  • Do-it-yourself

So, which option is right for you?  To answer that, you really need to weigh the pros and cons and think about your goals for the process.

We put together a great guide on The Types of Divorce that dives deep into each of these options (and more). Be sure to check it out if you’re trying to decide which path is best for you.

Fill Out the Necessary Forms to Start the Process

Necessary Forms to Prepare

The type of divorce you decide to file will determine what forms you need to complete in Massachusetts:

  • File for a no-fault 1A divorce if you and your spouse agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and you have reached an agreement on all issues, including child support, parenting time, alimony, custody and dividing assets.
  • File for a no-fault 1B divorce if one spouse believes the marriage has ended or if both spouses agree the marriage has ended but are not in agreement regarding divorce issues. This is called a contested no-fault divorce.
  • File for a fault-based divorce if you want to prove a specific reason for the divorce such as adultery, drug or alcohol addiction or cruel treatment.

File Your Documents

How Do You File Your Forms for a Divorce

After you have completed your forms, you will need to file the paperwork either in person or by mail at the Probate and Family Court. If you or your spouse lives in the county where you lived together, you file for divorce at the Probate and Family Court in that county. Otherwise, you can file in the county where you or your spouse live now.

When you file, you will need to pay a filing fee of $200, a divorce filing surcharge of $15 and a divorce summons charge of $5.  If you can’t afford to pay the fees, you may be able to get a waiver from the court.

Serving Your Spouse With Divorce Papers

You must serve your spouse with a copy of the initial paperwork within 90 days after you file your complaint.

You cannot serve the papers yourself.  In Massachusetts, a sheriff or constable can complete service on your behalf.  You must give them a copy of the complaint, the summons, a Track Assignment Notice, and if needed, an approved Affidavit of Indigency, a copy of the Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceedings, and an Automatic Restraining Order.

The sheriff or constable will deliver the documents in person to the defendant and return a completed Proof of Service either to you or directly back to the court.

If the sheriff or constable cannot find the defendant after diligent attempts, you will need to file a motion with the court by filing a Motion for Alternative Service form and asking that service be completed by publication or by mailing.  If approved, you will be able to complete service by certified mail or by publishing a notice following court ordered guidelines in a local newspaper.

Frequently Asked Questions About Filing for Divorce in Massachusetts

How much does it cost to file for a divorce in Massachusetts?

cost to file for a divorce

When you file for divorce in Massachusetts, you must pay a $200 divorce filing fee, a $15 divorce filing surcharge and a $5 divorce summons charge.  You can request that these fees be waived if you are unable to afford them.

Read More: How Much Does Divorce Cost?

Can divorce fees be waived in Massachusetts?

You can apply for indigency which is a waiver of court fees and costs if you cannot afford to pay for them.  To do so, you will need to submit an Affidavit of Indigency.

In some cases, you may also be required to submit a supplemental form.  Once you complete these forms, you will file them with the clerk at the court where your divorce case is being heard.  You can either do this in person or by mail.

Can I file for a divorce online in Massachusetts?

divorce online

While it’s possible to automate the divorce process online in Massachusetts to some degree, there is no such thing as an online divorce in the state.  The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts do not accept divorce paperwork and fees or grant divorces online.

It is possible to do some of the initial paperwork online by retaining the services of a private family law attorney or using one of several firms who specialize in assisting in the preparation of divorce forms in the state.  But the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts offer this service online for free.

Once paperwork is completed, regardless of how it is completed, you must still file the documentation in person at the appropriate courthouse.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Massachusetts?

How long does it take

When a couple first agrees to an uncontested divorce and creates a written Separation Agreement that is then filed with the Probate and Family Court as joint petitioners, the process takes about three months.  In more complicated marriages where issues need to be worked out, the time frame can be considerably longer.

Parents who have minor children are required to take a court-approved parent education program and must also allow themselves time to complete this pre-hearing requirement.  A certificate of program completion must be filed with the Court as part of the divorce filing.

After a Separation Agreement, financial statements and a Joint Petition for divorce have been filed, a hearing date will be scheduled.  It may take a couple of weeks between the filing date and the hearing date, and usually depends on the Court’s backlog of cases.  If the Separation Agreement is approved, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi (temporary judgment of divorce) will be entered 30 days later. That Judgment will then become absolute (final) within 90 more days.

This means that the entire process, including the negotiations to create a Separation Agreement generally take about 7 to 8 months in an uncontested divorce.

In a contested divorce where only one party files a Complaint for Divorce, the parties must wait six months from the filing date to have a divorce hearing where a Judgment of Divorce Nisi may be issued.  The Judgment will then become final within 90 days after that.

If both sides reach a settlement during the six month waiting period, the divorce can be switched to uncontested so that the hearing process can be set without going through the entire six-month period.  However, most of the time this is not the case and a trial may be required when no agreement is reached.  This can result in an additional waiting period of several more months.

In Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court official time-standard for contested divorces is 14 months. This means that the divorce process, from filing to entry of a judgment, should take no more than 14 months. But depending on the court backlog and the parties’ particular needs, the process may take longer.

What are the residency requirements to file for a divorce in Massachusetts?

To file for a divorce in Massachusetts, one spouse must be a resident of the state if the grounds for divorce took place in Massachusetts and you lived in the state as a couple.  If the grounds for the divorce took place outside of the state, then at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of at least one year.

The divorce is usually filed in the county where the filing spouse lives.

Can I file for divorce in Massachusetts without using a lawyer?

file for divorce without a lawyer

It is possible to get a divorce in Massachusetts without using a lawyer.  You must decide if you are going to file an uncontested or a contested divorce as your first step.  If you don’t want to use a lawyer, it’s in your best interests to file an uncontested divorce where you both agree on all terms.

This will make it easier to draft a separation agreement which can then be reviewed by the court to make sure it is fair and reasonable.  A judge may reject it if parts are missing or it is not considered equitable.

If you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement, you can use a mediator instead of getting lawyers involved.  The mediator will take a collaborative approach and attempt to final terms that work best for both sides.

Over the course of one or more sessions, a mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things such as child support and custody, alimony and a division of assets.

Can I get a divorce in Massachusetts if I am pregnant?

divorce while I am pregnant

You can get a divorce while you are pregnant in Massachusetts.  If the husband is not the father of the baby, be aware that adultery can have an impact on alimony awards and may be considered as one of the factors a judge may use when deciding whether or not to grant alimony.

How is my divorce affected if I am a member of the military in Massachusetts?


If you or your spouse are a member of the military and want to get a divorce in Massachusetts, normal residence rules apply.  One of you must have been a resident of the state if the grounds for divorce took place in Massachusetts and you lived in the state as a couple.  If the grounds for the divorce took place outside of the state, then at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of at least one year.

The grounds for a military divorce are the same as they are for a civilian divorce and can either be no fault (irreconcilable differences) or fault based.

Just as in a civilian divorce, once paperwork has been filed in Massachusetts to begin a divorce, copies must be served on a spouse to give him or her a chance to respond.  Rules can be a bit more complicated regarding service than they can be for a civilian divorce

When a spouse is in the military, they have certain protections afforded to them by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  This allows them to postpone the divorce while they are overseas or otherwise not able to adequately respond to the petition due to military service commitments.  They are also protected from being held in default from failing to respond in a timely manner.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty.  A service member may choose to waive delaying the divorce by signing off on paperwork which will then allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.

When separation takes place, one of the most important things to consider is for those military families that live in base housing.  Non-military members cannot remain in base housing if there is not a service member residing in the home.  This does not apply if a servicemember has been deployed, but it does apply if a military couple has been separated.

If you’re a non-military spouse living in base housing, you will probably need to vacate that housing within 30 days after you and your spouse are separated.

Normal equitable property division laws apply for a military divorce in Massachusetts, but the federal government also protects military personnel through the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act that governs how military benefits are calculated when a divorce takes place.  Federal laws will not allow a military member’s retirement to be distributed to a spouse unless the couple has been married for 10 years or more while the service member was on active duty.

Normal Massachusetts child support guidelines are used to determine the proper amount of child support to be paid, but federal law dictates that child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemembers’ pay and allowances.

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