When the time comes to make a separation official or file for divorce, both spouses have a right to appear in court and be heard. To make sure that both have notice of the proceedings, Massachusetts courts require the person filing for divorce or seeking support after a separation to have her court papers delivered to her spouse. She must also serve him with a court-issued document called a summons, "summoning" him to appear in the action.
It takes two to marry but only one to call it quits. If both you and your spouse are ready to end the marriage, the two of you can file a Joint Petition for Divorce in Massachusetts. Since the petition is signed by both parties, the court is already assured that both have notice of the action, so no summons is necessary. On the other hand, you can initiate a divorce by yourself by filing a Complaint for Divorce. In this case, the court issues a divorce summons that must be delivered to your spouse.
Separate Support Complaint
You do not have to divorce in Massachusetts to get court-ordered spousal support and child support. A spouse wishing to live separately without divorcing can file a Complaint for Support or a Complaint for Separate Support. The first is appropriate for a spouse who does not need a custody order but seeks financial support or health insurance for herself or her children; the second is appropriate when a custody order is also required. In either case, when the court receives the complaint, it will issue a support summons that must be served on the other spouse to notify him of the proceedings.
Divorce/Separate Support Summons
When you file your complaint with the Massachusetts Probate and Family Law Court, the court clerk will issue you a summons. The document is called a Divorce/Separate Support Summons because it is used for both divorce complaints and support/separate support complaints. It advises your spouse that he must file an answer to your complaint within 20 days. You must fill in the blanks on the summons before service, inserting the parties' names and addresses and circling either "divorce" or "separate support" as appropriate.
Serving a Summons
The spouse filing the complaint is responsible for arranging to have a copy of the summons and complaint served on her spouse within 90 days of the date the complaint is filed with the court. It is easiest if your spouse simply agrees to accept the papers and signs the summons himself. If this is not the case, Massachusetts deputy sheriffs and constables are authorized to serve the documents; however, they charge a fee for this service. You can also ask an adult who is not involved in the court case to hand the papers to your spouse. Whoever serves the documents must prepare a "proof of service," advising the court of the date, time and place of service and swearing to the truth of the facts asserted under penalty of perjury.