MASSACHUSETTS DIVORCE LAW
Every divorce case has its own set of facts and circumstances. And, in nearly every case, emotions makes it impossible for a party to think objectively about the best possible outcome. However, Massachusetts divorce law comes from statutes and case law. It will ultimately be applied to the facts of your case. While the way the law will apply to your case can ordinarily be a subject for debate, there’s a certain reasonable spectrum within which each issue can be reasonably predicted. A competent and experienced lawyer can help you understand how the law applies to you.
Here we take a first step by educating you on the basics. Whether you’re considering divorce or are currently in the process, you’ll have a better sense of the likely outcome if you understand the basics of divorce law. So, on this page, written by a Massachusetts divorce lawyer, we provide you with a general understanding of how divorce law works in Massachusetts. It’s important that you understand that this information is for basic educational purposes only. So, it shouldn’t be construed as legal advice. If you would like free legal advice, simply contact our office and ask for a free attorney consultation.
Massachusetts Divorce Law Basics
Every Massachusetts divorce presents the issues of property division, alimony, and attorney fees. While each of these remedies may not be available in every case, an analysis must be conducted to make the determination. In addition to these issues, in cases involving minor children, we have the issues of custody and child support. We’ll continue to reiterate – there’s no substitute for speaking with a lawyer, but this content helps explain the basics.
Let’s take these issues one at a time:
Property Division / Equitable Distribution
Massachusetts follows the equitable distribution approach to property division. Under this approach, the court will divide the property and debt of your marriage between you and your spouse “equitably.” That’s not to say the division will be equal, although usually it is in longer-term marriages. In short-term marriages, the judge tends to put the parties where they were prior to marriage. The law requires the property and debt distribution be done in a fair manner, considering many factors of the marriage and the parties. In fact, the court must consider a couple dozen factors in deciding the equitable distribution of your marital estate. These factors include: length of the marriage; occupation of each spouse; and, contributions made by a stay-at-home spouse. You can see how this gets murky. But, a lawyer who understands this area of practice can better hone in on what will likely happen in your case.
The Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act of 2011 changed the way we look at spousal support in Massachusetts, primarily adding more structure to the court’s decision. Today we consider four different types of alimony. These include general term alimony, rehabilitative alimony, reimbursement alimony, and transitional alimony. General term alimony is meant to provide income to a spouse who is economically dependent on the other. Further, it has specific limitations based on the length of the marriage. Only in marriages longer than 20 years can the court order alimony for an indefinite period. In all other circumstances, the court establishes an end date for the support.
Massachusetts law provides for the allocation of case costs in divorce cases, including attorney fees, filing fees, and case expenses. The law provides for the allocation of such costs between the parties prior to the conclusion of the case, giving the judge the opportunity to provide temporary costs before the case is over. While the court will seek to establish fairness in responsibility of the case costs, remember that fairness is also the court’s charge in determining equitable distribution. Accordingly, if equity has already occurred through the resolution of that issue, costs will likely be borne by the party incurring them absent some misconduct of the parties during the case.
In Massachusetts we define child custody in two parts. First, “Legal Custody” refers to major decision-making for minor children. In almost all cases, the parties will share legal custody. This is known as “Joint Legal Custody.” This means that when it comes to major issues such as planned medical treatment, schooling, and religious upbringing of the children, the parties must collaborate and engage in joint decision-making. There are situations in which joint legal custody would be inappropriate and the court may order “Sole Legal Custody” if the facts and circumstances support such a decision. The second issue regarding child custody is “Physical Custody,” including visitation of minor children. The court will consider a number of factors in determining what physical custody and visitation arrangement is in the children’s best interests. Ultimately, a parenting plan will be established setting forth the children’s schedule and other related responsibilities of the parties.
As in almost all states, Massachusetts has established child support guidelines, calculating child support based on a mathematical formula. The formula considers the income of the parties, the physical custody of the minor children, the health insurance of the children and who pays it, and the child care cost and who pays it. While the law provides for some provision for the court to move away from the guidelines, that is the exception and happens rarely.
Assessing Your Case
As you’ve likely found in researching the law and trying to apply it to your case, there are probably too many unique factors to make an accurate assessment on your own. Your case, like all cases, has many unique facts. After researching the basics of the law, you may have a sense of some components, such as child support, but you may be unsure about property division and alimony. You are likely contemplating the relevance of the many facts of your marriage and why it didn’t work. While we encourage you to continue researching, there’s simply no substitute for a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer.
We offer free attorney consultations and we hope you take advantage of this option. To schedule your consultation, call (978) 225-9030. Either way, best of luck to you in getting through this process and in your new life ahead.