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Massachusetts Family Law: An Overview

Some of the most common cases filed in Massachusetts courts include divorce, alimony, child custody, child support and marital property distribution. These types of cases and others related to marriage, divorce, and family life all fall under Massachusetts's family laws. The purpose of family law is to provide a legal standard for resolving disputes and protecting spousal and children's rights.

Massachusetts's family law attorneys are experienced in whatever family-related case you may need assistance with. An attorney can treat your case with the sensitivity it needs while helping you exercise your legal rights.

If you have a family law case in Lexington, Boston, Cambridge or elsewhere in Massachusetts, LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo's Massachusetts Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family.

Massachusetts Marriage Requirements

Before you and your partner are ready to get married, know that Massachusetts prohibits certain kinds of marriages. These kinds of marriages represent health and criminal issues that concern most states and federal law. Massachusetts will not legally recognize a:

  • Marriage to a person under 18 years of age unless a parent or a guardian's consent is obtained and a Marriage of Minors application is filed to a probate or district court where the minor resides.
  • Marriage between parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, siblings, uncle/aunt and niece/nephew or first cousins.
  • Bigamous or polygamous marriage (married to multiple partners at the same time).

Massachusetts Marriage License

When making your wedding plans, make some time in your schedule to apply for a Massachusetts marriage license. The license verifies the legality of your marriage and your eligibility to certain rights and benefits.

It's important to work the application of the marriage license into your schedule due to certain time constraints. Upon receiving your license, you'll have to wait three days before you can legally get married. After the waiting period, you'll have 60 days to have your wedding ceremony before the license expires.

As either a resident or non-resident of Massachusetts, you'll need to appear with your spouse in-person to any city or town registrar or clerk to apply for the license. Once you receive your marriage license, you may use it in any county within the state.

Massachusetts Divorce Requirements

If you and your spouse decide to get divorced, you will need to choose one of several grounds for divorce to qualify in Massachusetts. This may sound restrictive at first but among the grounds you can select are “no-fault” grounds, which mean that no one's at fault for the end of a marriage. When filing for divorce, you'll have to choose at least one of these grounds:

  • Irretrievable breakdown of marriage. There are two ways to file for this no-fault ground:
    • Both spouses can file jointly, meaning that they agree on all of the decisions concerning the divorce and its aftermath, including child support, custody, and marital property division.
    • One spouse can file without the other's agreement to the divorce. If, after six months from the petition, the court finds that the marriage still suffers from an irretrievable breakdown, it may grant the request for divorce regardless of the other spouse's disagreement.
  • Abandonment for at least one year.
  • A voluntary and gross habit of intoxication by alcohol or drugs.
  • Abusive and cruel treatment.
  • Refusal of or neglects to provide suitable support to the spouse.

To legally qualify for divorce in Massachusetts, at least one spouse must also maintain residency within the state for one year or longer.

Distribution of Marital Property in Massachusetts

When a couple gets divorced in Massachusetts, either they must agree upon how their shared marital property will be divided between them or the court decides upon an equitable distribution of marital property. If the court makes the decision, property may not necessarily be divided equally into halves.

Unlike states that deem property attained during the marriage as “community property,” Massachusetts family law does not assign or award equal shares of ownership to marital property. When deciding how to distribute property to both divorcees, the court must consider several factors, including:

  • How long the marriage lasted.
  • Each spouse's contributions to the value of the property.
  • Each spouse's health and economic situation following the divorce.
  • Child custody and support payments.
  • The fault grounds for divorce. Misconduct may affect distribution.

When Do I Need a Massachusetts Family Law Attorney?

Whether you need a family law attorney depends on a number of factors specific to your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Few couples need a lawyer to get married but attorneys may be required if there's a prenuptial agreement involved.

Individuals often benefit from hiring an attorney when dealing with divorce, child support, and especially child custody matters. Because emotions can run high during some divorces, hiring an attorney to negotiate and resolve difficult issues can be invaluable.

Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so it may be worth your time to speak with an experienced Massachusetts family law attorney if you have additional questions.

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