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Person signing divorce papersEven if you and your spouse agree to divorce, taking the step to officially end your marriage can bring on a whole range of emotions you may not have expected.

Add the challenge of dividing your assets or arranging custody of your kids, and this legal procedure can get very stressful.

If you’re getting ready to file for divorce in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Court System has information to guide you through the divorce process.

Before Filing for Divorce

Who Can File for Divorce in Massachusetts?

There are two ways you can be eligible to file for divorce in Massachusetts.

  • You’ve lived in Massachusetts for at least a year.
  • The cause of your divorce took place in Massachusetts, and you’ve lived in the state as a couple.

What Are the Different Types of Divorce?

Before you start, you need to determine which type of divorce you should file for.

  • No Fault 1A— You and your spouse agree to divorce and have reached a decision on alimony, child support paymentschild custody, and the division of assets.
  • No Fault 1B — Both or only one of you may agree to divorce, but you don’t agree on alimony, child support, child custody, or division of assets. Most of the time, the divorce ends with a written agreement on these issues, called a separation agreement.
  • Fault— You or your spouse seeks to prove that the other is responsible for the end of the marriage. This type of divorce may be more expensive and time-consuming. Legal reasons for a fault divorce include:
    • Adultery
    • Desertion
    • Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication
    • Cruel and abusive treatment
    • Lack of support
    • Impotency
    • A prison sentence of five or more years

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

The cost of a divorce varies depending on your situation and whether or not you decide to find a lawyer. In Massachusetts, you can choose to have a lawyer represent you for all of your divorce or just part of it. This is called limited assistance representation. However, there are some divorce fees everyone must pay:

Some fees may be waived if you meet certain eligibility requirements.

What Paperwork Do I Need for a Divorce?

Once you know the type of divorce you want to file for, you have to gather and fill out some paperwork.

  • Marriage Certificate — Get a certified copy of your civil marriage certificate from the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics or from the city or town hall where you applied for your marriage license.
  • Form R-408 — Fill out a joint R-408 (Certificate of Absolute Divorce or Annulment)
  • Paperwork for the Type of Divorce — Complete the No Fault 1A divorce paperwork, No Fault 1B divorce paperwork, or Fault divorce paperwork.
  • Paperwork for Children — If you and your spouse have children under 18, you have to complete an Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody Proceeding and a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. For more details on filing for child support, read our child support blog.
  • Financial Statement — The financial statement you file depends on your income. File a long form financial statement if you make $75,000 or more a year. If your income is less than $75,000, file the short form financial statement.
  • Separation Agreement — You need a notarized separation agreement to file for No Fault 1A divorce. For other types of divorce, it will be prepared during the process once you and your spouse agree to terms. A separation agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse. It spells out how you are going to divide your property, child custody, child support, spousal support, visitation, and any other issues relevant to your divorce. There are different ways to reach an agreement. You can negotiate on your own and write the agreement yourselves, or hire attorneys to help you. You may also decide to use a divorce mediator to help settle the issues. A separation agreement can be a binding contract between you and your spouse. This is called a separation agreement that “survives” the divorce. Sometimes it is not a separate contract, but until the judge approves it, it becomes part of the divorce judgment. This is called a separation agreement that has “merged” with the divorce judgment. These are technical terms, but it is important that you make the choice that is right for you. It will be helpful to speak to an attorney about the choices you make. If you are unable to consult an attorney, the law libraries and public libraries have books with examples of separation agreements.

Where Should I File the Paperwork?

Once you’ve completed the paperwork, you should file it at a probate and family court by mail or in person. If you or your spouse still lives in the county where you lived together, you should file there. Otherwise, you should file in the county where you or your spouse lives now.

During the Divorce Process

After you’ve filed for divorce, there are some additional steps you may need to take.

  • Screening for Alternative Dispute Resolution — If you want to resolve your case without going through a trial, the Courts offer Court-Connected Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Many courts offer screening sessions to help you determine which service could work for you.
  • Parent Education — If you and your spouse have children under the age of 18, you must attend a Parent Education Program to help your family manage the challenges presented by divorce.

After the Divorce Process

When Will My Divorce Become Final?

Once the judge grants your divorce, you’ll enter a nisi period before your divorce becomes final. This period can last 90–120 days, depending on the type of divorce, and gives you and your spouse a chance to change your minds if you want. You don’t need to do anything during this time, and your divorce will become final automatically once the nisi period is over.

Once your divorce is final, you can request a copy of your divorce decree from the court that granted your divorce.

Filing for divorce poses a few unique challenges, but there are plenty of resources to help you navigate this process.

If you have questions about the divorce process in Massachusetts, comment below or tweet us at @MassGov.

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