While a divorce can be daunting, I am available to help you through the process with as much ease as possible. My focus is on seeking to achieve your objectives in the most expeditious and cost-effective manner possible, while you focus on moving forward with your life.
How to proceed?
When considering divorce, it is important to understand the legal options available in order to choose the best course of action. The first step is understanding the grounds upon which a divorce must be made in Massachusetts; the second step is understanding the procedures available to resolve the various matters that must be addresses (such as property division, child custody, and alimony).
The Grounds for Divorce in Massachusetts in “Fault” Divorces
The grounds for divorce in Massachusetts in “fault” divorces consist of abuse, adultery, desertion for more than one year, excessive drug or alcohol abuse, imprisonment for more than 5 years, impotency (in certain cases), and non-support.
- Abuse – Abuse can be either physical acts or a pattern of conduct that puts the spouse in apprehension of physical harm. The harm can be actual physical injury, health issues, or danger or injury. This can include words if they put the spouse in fear of harm. Not all instances of harsh words are considered abuse; the conduct must create some sort of harm. The harm does not need to be intended or even foreseeable from a spouse’s conduct. If there is actual harm caused, only one instance may be sufficient to create the proper grounds.
- Adultery – Adultery can be shown through the cohabitation of the offending spouse and another person, or such conduct by the parties that someone on the street would deem them to be in an adulterous relationship. If there is no cohabitation, frequent visits accompanied by certain behavior (evidence of displays of affection) are sufficient for a divorce. Behavior can be through words or conduct between the spouse and another person, or by a former relationship between the two. Admission alone without evidence is not enough to establish adultery. It is important to know that this ground will generally not affect how the children’s custody or visitation rights will ultimately be decided.
- Desertion for over 1 year – To constitute desertion, one spouse must show that the other left voluntarily, without reason, and with no intent to return. There cannot be an agreement to separate and the desertion must last for over 1 year. The leaving spouse does not have to physically leave the home; Massachusetts has recognized constructive desertion where one spouse is excluded from the family to such an extent as to be considered desertion.
- Excessive drug or alcohol use – If the complaining spouse can show confirmed and gross habits of intoxication, through drugs or alcohol use, Massachusetts will grant a divorce of the parties. The party must be able to show the type of drugs or alcohol abused, the frequency of use, the offending spouse’s conduct, and habitual use. At the time of the filing, the abuse must exist.
- Imprisonment for over 5 years – Under Massachusetts law if a spouse is sentenced to imprisonment for 5 or more years a divorce will be granted. Courts have also deemed sentences of 3-6 years as adequate grounds. Once the sentencing has occurred, papers for divorce can be filed based upon this ground
- Impotency –The parties must be able to show that they are unable to have sexual relations or that they have had sexual relations but experience severe amounts of pain.
- Nonsupport – It must be shown that the offending spouse had the ability to support but grossly, wantonly, or cruelly, chose not to do so. Neglect to support is not enough to establish proper grounds. The spouse must have physically suffered, or was placed in reasonable apprehension, from lack of support by the other.
Regardless of the grounds, both parties seeking a divorce must be able to show cause for the divorce.
No-Fault Divorce in Massachusetts
If the parties are willing to agree that there has been a permanent break-down of the marriage and that they have reached a written agreement on matters such as alimony, child custody, distribution of marital assets, etc. the court can grant a No-Fault Divorce. Using this process, the court will not consider any evidence that may presume fault and will only approve or deny the agreement the parties reach.
If only one party can agree that there has been a permanent break-down of the marriage, or if they cannot agree to terms, the parties must wait 6 months after their paperwork is filed before a no-fault divorce will be granted (G.L. c. 208, § 1A). Parties must still be able to show cause for the action. The court has the ability to demand the parties seek marriage counseling prior to approval of the action.
The Options for Reaching Settlement Prior to Trial
After grounds have been established, the spouses should understand that litigation is not their only option. While a divorce can be stressful, there are many procedures that can minimize the overall stress. Parties can choose to take advantage of alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation, negotiations, and arbitration. Once a process has been selected, the parties can move forward with dividing up marital assets and discussing alimony, child support, and child custody issues.
In most cases, the parties will resolve matters outside of court. Resolving such matters is not always easy; many times it can prove to be contentious. I endeavor to take advantage of negotiation and such other measures, as well as creative problem-solving, in seeking an agreeable result for our clients without trial whenever possible. If trial is inevitable, I will go all out to win for clients.
Get Help with Your Divorce Today
If you are seeking a divorce, contact me at (978) 851-5145 to learn how I and my firm can help.