Grounds for Divorce in Massachusetts

There are three principal players involved in your marriage that will also be involved in your divorce: you, your spouse, and the state. You cannot simply break up, saddle your charger, and ride off into the sunset. Among other legal considerations, you have to give the state an acceptable reason why you should be allowed to break up. The reason is known as the ground for your divorce. Over the years each state has enacted legislation that governs acceptable grounds. 

In Massachusetts, you can file for divorce due to an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (no-fault) or by proving fault of the other party. If both parties come to an agreement (on the various divorce related issues such as: child custody, support, visitation, alimony, and division of assets and debts), you can file a joint petition for divorce due to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Both parties must then appear in court for a brief hearing where a Judge determines if the agreement is fair. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement or if one party is unavailable, the other party may still file for divorce on the grounds of an irretrievable breakdown. The court will hold a hearing and enter orders regarding both parties.

Chapter 208: Section 1. General provisions, lists all of  the grounds for divorce in Massachusetts:

Section 1. A divorce from the bond of matrimony may be adjudged for:

utter desertion continued for one year next prior to the filing of the complaint,
gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs,
cruel and abusive treatment, or,
if a spouse being of sufficient ability, grossly or wantonly and cruelly refuses or neglects to provide suitable support and maintenance for the other spouse,
or for an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as provided in sections one A and B; provided, however, that a divorce shall be adjudged although both parties have cause, and no defense upon recrimination shall be entertained by the court.

After the divorce hearing, the Judge enters a Judgment of Divorce Nisi which becomes final in 90 days. Neither party may remarry until the end of the 90 day nisi period. The court order can include spousal support, child custody, child support, and visitation, and a division of property assets and debts.

In Massachusetts there are three methods for annulment of "void marriages":

  • the parties are too closely related by blood (consanguinity), for example, a brother and a sister;

  • the parties are too closely related through marriage (affinity), for example, a father-in-law and daughter;

  • one person was married to someone else at the time they married the second person (bigamy). However, if the person now seeking an annulment knew at the time of the marriage about the prior marriage, they cannot seek an annulment.

On the other hand "voidable" marriages occur when:

  • one spouse lacked the mental capacity to marry. This includes cases where one spouse was not of legal age to be married and did not seek parental or judicial consent for the marriage. The legal age in Massachusetts for marriage is 18;

  • one spouse was impotent;

  • there was fraud going to the essence of the marriage contract. For example, one party entered the marriage solely to avoid deportation and led the other party to believe otherwise;

  • one spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the ceremony such that he or she did not have the capacity to consent to the marriage.


For a voluntary separation, you must have been voluntarily separated for at least 18 months without cohabitation (without a single night under the same roof and without any sexual intercourse) before you can file for an absolute divorce.

Also, if your spouse has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor with a sentence of at least three years or an unspecified sentence in a penal institution, and has served 18 months of that sentence, you can then file for absolute divorce. In an 18-month separation, before filing for absolute divorce, you and your spouse must have lived separate and apart, without cohabitation for two years without interruption. Finally, if your spouse has been confined to a mental institute, hospital or other similar institution for at least 24 consecutive months, you can then file for an absolute divorce, provided you have met the residency required for this particular ground.

Massachusetts Divorce Forms


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