MASSACHUSETTS DIVORCE LAW

Every divorce case has its own set of facts and circumstances and in nearly every case, the emotion involved makes it impossible for a party to think objectively about the best possible outcome.  The law, however, is defined through statute and case law and will ultimately be applied to the facts of your case.  While how the law will apply to your case can ordinarily be debated, there is a certain reasonable spectrum within which each issue can be reasonably predicted.  Whether you are 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 we provide you with a general understanding of how divorce law works in Massachusetts.  It’s important that you understand that the information provided here is for basic educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you would like free legal advice, simply contact our office and we’ll provide you with 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.

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 it ultimately usually is.  Rather, the law requires that the property and debt be distributed in a fair manner, considering many factors of the marriage and the parties.  In fact, the Court must consider a couple dozen factors in determining the equitable distribution of your marital estate, including the length of the marriage, the occupation of each spouse, and the contributions made by a stay-at-home spouse.

Alimony
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 determination.  Today we consider four different types of alimony, including 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 and has specific limitations based on the length of the marriage.  Only in marriage 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.

Attorney Fees
Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208, Section 38 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 then 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.

Child Custody
In Massachusetts we define child custody in two parts.  First, “Legal Custody” refers to major decision-making for the minor children.  In most all cases, legal custody will be shared by the parties, 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 are expected and required to 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 should the facts and circumstances support such a determination.  The second issue regarding child custody is Physical Custody, including visitation, of the minor children.  In Massachusetts the Court will consider a number of factors in determining what physical custody and visitation arrangement is in the best interests of the children.  Ultimately a parenting plan will be established setting forth the children’s schedule and other related responsibilities of the parties.

Child Support
As in most 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 deviate from the guidelines, deviation 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 likely 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 its demise.  While we encourage you to continue researching, there is 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.