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In Massachusetts, a judgment of divorce may be granted based upon a so-called “no-fault divorce” where there is an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” or, in the alternative, based upon fault grounds.
In a no-fault divorce, if the parties have reached an agreement, they may proceed by filing a joint petition for divorce with a fully executed separation agreement with the court. The separation agreement is a written agreement between the parties that addresses all the issues of divorce such as alimony, child support, custody and division of assets. The separation agreement is presented to the probate and family court for approval and once approved it becomes a judgment of the court.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement, one party may file a complaint for divorce alleging an irretrievable breakdown of marriage and serving a copy of the complaint together with a summons issued by the probate and family court to the other party. A hearing on the divorce cannot be heard by the court until the expiration of six months from the date of filing the complaint for divorce. Typically, the parties have a hearing soon after the filing of the complaint to resolve issues on a temporary basis regarding support, custody and visitation. The parties usually proceed soon thereafter with “discovery,” the process by which each side obtains all the necessary documents and information from the other party to either reach an agreement or to prepare for a trial.
In addition to irretrievable breakdown as a basis for divorce, there are fault grounds on which to base a complaint for divorce. By statute, those grounds are:
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication
- Prison sentence