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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Massachusetts Divorce

Laws current as of
December 14, 2023

Below you will find basic information about divorce in Massachusetts.

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

The amount of time that you must live in Massachusetts before filing for divorce depends on whether or not the reason that the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts or outside of Massachusetts. 

If the reason the marriage ended happened outside of Massachusetts, you can get a divorce in Massachusetts only if:

  • you have lived in the state for one year immediately before filing for divorce;1 or
  • at some point, you lived together in Massachusetts as husband and wife, and one of you still lived in Massachusetts when the reason that the marriage ended happened.2 For example, while you were living together in Massachusetts as a married couple, your husband/wife went to another state and cheated on you (committed adultery).

If the reason the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts, you can get a divorce in Massachusetts if you live in the state at the time you’re filing for divorce. However, a divorce will not be granted if it seems like you moved to Massachusetts to get a divorce.1

1 M.G.L. 208 § 5
2 M.G.L. 208 § 4

What are the reasons (grounds) for divorce in Massachusetts?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce.

A no-fault divorce is when you file for divorce without saying that your spouse is responsible for the end of the marriage. In Massachusetts, a judge may grant you a no-fault divorce due to an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage, which means the marriage is broken and cannot be fixed.1

A fault-based divorce is when you file for divorce and claim that your spouse was responsible for the end of the marriage. In Massachusetts, a judge may grant you a fault-based divorce for any of the following reasons:

  1. adultery;
  2. impotence;
  3. abandonment (desertion) for a year immediately before filing for divorce;1 Note: This abandonment needs to be voluntary, without a good reason (justification), with the intent not to return, and without your consent;2
  4. regular (habitual) intoxication with alcohol or drugs;
  5. cruel and abusive treatment;
  6. if your spouse can provide for you but cruelly refuses or neglects to support you;or
  7. your spouse is sentenced to prison for five years or more.3

The granting of a divorce is not affected by both parties having a fault-based cause (ground) for divorce.1So, if you file a fault-based divorce, the fact that you also committed one of these fault-based grounds cannot be used as a defense from the divorce process by your spouse. This means that s/he can’t get the divorce dismissed by alleging that you also committed one of these grounds.

1 M.G.L.  208 § 1
2 M.G.L.  208 § 22
3 M.G.L.  208 § 2

Can I get alimony? What factors will a judge consider?

Alimony is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. In Massachusetts, a judge can order alimony while the divorce action is pending and later as part of the final decree. 

As part of the final divorce decree, the judge can order one of three types of alimony:

  1. Transitional alimony can last up to three years, and it ends:
    1. on a certain date included in the order, and it cannot be extended;
    2. upon the remarriage of the person who is getting alimony; or
    3. upon the death of either spouse;1
  2. Rehabilitative alimony can last up to five years, and it ends:
    1. when a specific event takes place, and it can be extended under certain circumstances;
    2. upon the remarriage of the person getting alimony; or
    3. upon the death of either spouse;2
  3. General term alimony can last for different amounts of time, depending on the length of the marriage. General alimony ends upon the recipient’s remarriage or either spouse’s death. It can be suspended, reduced, or ended (terminated) if the spouse who gets alimony begins living with an intimate partner (“cohabiting” ) for more than three months.3

In determining which of the three types of alimony to order, the amount of alimony, and the length of alimony, the judge will consider:

  1. the length of the marriage;
  2. the age of the parties;
  3. the health of the parties;
  4. the income, employment, and employability of both parties, including employability through additional training, if necessary;
  5. the economic and non-economic contribution of both parties to the marriage;
  6. the marital lifestyle;
  7. the ability of each party to keep (maintain) the marital lifestyle;
  8. any lost economic opportunity as a result of the marriage; and
  9. such other factors as the judge considers relevant and important (material).4

As part of, or in addition to, any alimony that the judge orders, the judge can also give to either spouse all or any part of the other spouse’s estate, including things such as property, retirement benefits, a pension, and insurance. Also, if alimony is ordered in your favor, the judge will consider whether your spouse has health insurance or health coverage through an employer or organization that could cover you. If your spouse does, the judge can order your spouse to do one of the following:

  • use the option of additional coverage to cover you;
  • get coverage for you; or
  • reimburse you for the cost of health insurance.5

Your alimony will not decrease due to your spouse covering your health insurance.5

1 M.G.L. 208 § 52
2 M.G.L 208 § 50
3 M.G.L 208 § 49
4 M.G.L 208 § 53
5 M.G.L 208 § 34

What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:

  • First, you must meet the state’s residency requirements to file.
  • Second, you must have “grounds,” which means a legally acceptable reason to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse. (To learn more about filing a summons, preparing a petition, and service of process, go to the Starting the Court Case page in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.)
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, s/he will then have the opportunity to file papers telling his/her side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” In this case, you will have to attend a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, s/he should sign the papers and send them back to you and the court. This is called an “uncontested divorce.” If a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. You should speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers the divorce papers before you can continue with the divorce.
  • Fifth, if there is a property that you need dividing, or if you need financial support from your spouse, you will have to work that out in an out-of-court settlement, in a series of court hearings, or the judge will decide at trial. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question: What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

What protections can I ask for while the divorce is pending?

While the divorce is pending, you might be able to ask the judge for the following temporary orders, depending on your specific situation:

  • alimony, including private health insurance if you don’t have any;
  • money to cover the cost of the divorce proceedings, whether you filed yourself or if the divorce was filed against you;1
  • an order telling your spouse not to restrict your personal liberty;
  • any orders necessary to protect you and your children and to keep (preserve) the peace;
  • a custody order, in consideration of the best interest of the child;3
  • a child support order that includes health insurance if needed;and
  • an order that your spouse leave the house for a 90-day period for your or your child’s health, safety, or welfare, which can be extended later if needed.5

1 M.G.L. 208 § 17
2 M.G.L. 208 § 18
3 M.G.L. 208 §§ 19; 28A
4 M.G.L. 208 §§ 20; 28A
5 M.G.L. 208 § 34B

Where can I find additional information about divorce?

We hope the following links to outside sources may be helpful.

The Massachusetts Court System website has information about the types of divorce you can file here and court forms you may need if you wish to get a divorce. The Massachusetts Court System also website provides links to the actual laws on alimony and other divorce-related laws.

MassLegalHelp.org explains that “legal separation” does not exist in Massachusetts, but if you live separately from your spouse, you may file for support even before your divorce. This site also discusses separation agreements, how to waive the filing fee for divorce, and other basic information about divorce. You can read about these topics and more on the MassLegalHelp.org website.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites. We provide these links for your information only.

You will find more information about divorce on our general Divorce page, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending. Go to our Videos page to watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English subtitles. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.