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Divorce in Massachusetts – FAQs

Massachusetts men’s divorce attorneys provide answers to frequently asked questions with regards to divorce laws and the divorce process in Massachusetts.

What are the grounds for divorce in Massachusetts?

The most common basis for a divorce is the marriage is irretrievably broken. Other grounds for divorce include adultery and habitual intoxication.

What is a divorce going to cost me in Massachusetts?

There is no way to predict the total cost of a divorce. The best way to control fees is to ensure you have a solid litigation plan. A solid plan is one based on clear communication between a client and their attorney.

Do I really need to hire a Massachusetts divorce attorney?

Yes. Domestic law is complex.

Never try to represent yourself. You will agree to things you might not otherwise have to agree to.

If you go to court unrepresented, you are charged with knowing all of the rules of civil procedure and acting in the same manner as an attorney would act in court.

Does Massachusetts grant divorces based on marital fault?

Yes. Fault-based divorces, however, are more complex and rarely lead to an outcome largely different than the outcome of a divorce filed on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Can I get alimony or will I have to provide alimony to my spouse?

Alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Typical factors in determining if and how much alimony will be paid include a substantial income disparity between the parties and whether one of the parties has been out of the work force for an extended period of time.

Can I change my name at the time of divorce?

The wife may have her maiden name restored when the divorce judgment is entered.

Can I get an annulment?

Annulments are rarely used. Generally, the most common basis for an annulment is fraud.

When can I file for divorce?

As long as the basis for the dissolution of your marriage occurred while you were living in Massachusetts, there is no time limit on how long you must live in Massachusetts prior to filing the divorce.

If the cause of the dissolution of the marriage occurred outside Massachusetts, there is a one-year residency requirement prior to filing a divorce action.

When is my case going to be over?

The length of time a case takes to reach conclusion is entirely dependent on the facts and circumstances in that case.

Uncontested cases (cases in which there are absolutely no disagreements as to any issues in the divorce) can be resolved quickly. Contested cases (such as those containing issues related to the division of assets or custody) can take much longer to resolve.

Additionally, each party’s respective approach toward litigation (cooperative, difficult, just out to make the other party mad, etc.) always influences the time a case takes to reach a final resolution.

Do I have to go to court?

You will likely have to make at least one appearance in court even if your case is uncontested so as to allow the court to approve the Separation Agreement. If the case is contested, yes, you will have to go to court.

Just because you have to go to the courthouse does not mean, however, that you have to engage in a contested hearing. Many cases are resolved between parties and then presented to the court as a Stipulation.

If attempts to serve my spouse do not work, what is my next step?

In order for a case to proceed, you must achieve service.  If the sheriff cannot serve your spouse, it is not uncommon for a private investigator to be hired to serve the spouse.

At what point during the process can a spouse remarry or start dating?

A person cannot remarry until after they are divorced. Do not start dating anyone until after the divorce is finalized.

What if my spouse does not want the divorce?

It does not matter. If one party wants to be divorced, the court will grant that party a divorce.

Do the other issues – support, custody, alimony, and property – have to be decided before the divorce is final?

Yes, all of these issues will be decided via either agreement between the parties or by the court at trial.

How long do I have to live in Massachusetts to obtain a divorce?

As long as the basis for the dissolution of your marriage occurred while you were living in Massachusetts, there is no time limit on how long you must live in Massachusetts prior to filing the divorce.

If the cause of the dissolution of the marriage occurred outside Massachusetts, there is a one-year residency requirement prior to filing a divorce action.

After I file for divorce, do I have to continue to live in Massachusetts?

No. By filing an action for divorce in Massachusetts, you are submitting yourself to the court’s jurisdiction. If is often difficult, however, to litigate a divorce from another state.

What if I am in the military and out of state?

There are federal laws that protect members of the military on active duty. It is best to consult an attorney to see which of those laws could be applicable in your case.

If you live outside the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and are served with a Complaint for Divorce, you need to hire an attorney.  He or she will need to verify whether the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction to enter an order under which you would be legally bound.

What forms do I need to file a divorce?

You need to file a Complaint for Divorce. You need to provide the court a certified copy of your marriage certificate.

You will also need to file an Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody if you have children.

How and where is a divorce complaint filed?

The complaint for divorce is filed with the Register of the Court.

How do I serve the divorce complaint on my spouse?

Your spouse may sign the Summons and “accept service” which prevents your spouse from being formally served.

Alternatively, your spouse may be served by a sheriff or a private investigator authorized by the court to serve a party.

How is a divorce granted?

If the case remains contested, the court will enter a judgment nisi, which will become a divorce absolute 90 days after the court enters the nisi. The parties remain married during the “nisi period.”

The parties are divorced when the divorce absolute is entered at the conclusion of the 90-day period.

What typically happens if I go to court to obtain my divorce myself?

You will be expected to be able to comply with all procedures outlined in the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure and applicable Probate and Family Court Rules.

In short, do not go to court by yourself. Hire a Massachusetts men’s divorce attorney.

How do I prove fault for divorce?

There is no need to demonstrate “fault” if you are proceeding on the basis that the marriage is irretrievably broken. You must simply affirm for the court that your marriage is irretrievably broken.

Proving other reasons for a divorce, such as adultery, involves a more complex and expensive divorce action.

At any time can a parent change a minor child’s last name without the other parent’s permission?

The court will use the “best interests of the child” standard in determining whether a name change should be allowed if requested by one parent and opposed by the parent.

Can a couple become legally married by living together as man and wife under the state’s laws (common law marriage)?

No. Massachusetts does not recognize common law marriages.

If a common law marital relationship was created in another state that recognizes common law marriages, Massachusetts will accord recognition to that marriage should the parties to the common law marriage seek a divorce in Massachusetts.

Frank Murphy

Edited By Frank Murphy

Chief Compliance Officer
Frank Murphy

Frank Murphy is the Chief Compliance Officer and an Executive Partner at Cordell & Cordell. His responsibilities include oversight of the Firm’s compliance with Legal and Ethical obligations as well as contributing to the day-to-day operations of the Firm as an Executive Partner.

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