Filing for Separation Vs. Divorce in Massachusetts

by Mark Vansetti

In Massachusetts, courts do not recognize or grant couples legal separations. If spouses choose to divorce, the court enters a judgment of divorce that legally ends the marriage. Some couples decide not to divorce, but to live apart instead for religious reasons, personal preference or in an attempt to work out the marriage. In such cases, Massachusetts law allows the court to enter a separate support judgment that includes spousal support and certain other terms, while not actually giving legal status to the separation.

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No Legal Separations in Massachusetts

In many states, courts grant divorces and legal separations, but Massachusetts law does not recognize legal separations. If a couple chooses to separate yet not go forward with a divorce, Massachusetts law allows one of the spouses to file for an order for separate support. This allows the court to enter a separate support judgment that addresses some terms of the separation, including spousal support.

Separate Support Judgment

The separate support judgment does not end the marriage in Massachusetts, but it does grant spousal support along with other important factors. For example, a separate support judgment can address custody issues, visitation or child support. To obtain a separation support judgment, one spouse must file the standard form, Complaint for Separate Support. The marriage itself does not end when the court enters the support judgment. Only a divorce proceeding can permanently and legally end a marriage in Massachusetts.

Grounds for Divorce

Under Massachusetts law, the spouse filing for divorce must define a reason, or legal grounds, for the divorce. The law provides seven grounds alleging that one spouse was at fault and one no-fault ground. The no-fault ground for divorce simply means that the marriage is beyond repair and the spouses wish to divorce, but neither spouse is particularly at fault. The fault grounds include reasons such as cruel and abusive treatment, desertion, adultery, impotency, drug or alcohol abuse, neglect or imprisonment.

Divorce Judgment

If the spouses choose to file for divorce instead of simply separating, the marriage ends when the court enters a final divorce judgment. If there are children of the marriage, the divorce judgment can also address custody, child support and visitation. The judge may also include spousal support, instructions regarding division of assets or debts and the disposition of the family home. The parties may agree to certain terms regarding these issues or, if they cannot agree, the court will order terms.