How to File for a Legal Separation in Massachusetts

By Bernadette A. Safrath

Massachusetts courts do not issue judgments for legal separation. However, if spouses choose to separate without getting a divorce, a "judgment for separate support" is available for a spouse seeking spousal support and child support. Some spouses do not want to divorce for religious purposes, for tax purposes or for purposes of maintaining medical coverage on a spouse's health insurance plan. If you or your spouse move out of the marital home with the intention of permanently living separately, it's wise to consult an attorney to find out exactly what you may be entitled to after the separation, including alimony, custody and child support.

Step 1

Obtain the form called "Complaint for Separate Support," which is available on the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court website.

Step 2

Complete the form, following the instructions provided. You must fill in the necessary information on the form, including both spouses' names and addresses, the date of the marriage, the reason for the separation, the names of any children and the relief sought. The court can grant spousal support, custody and child support.

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Step 3

Prepare supporting documents in accordance with the family court's requirements. Massachusetts law requires that you submit proof that your spouse was served with a copy of the complaint; a certified copy of the marriage license; the Affidavit of Custody and Child Support Worksheet; and a financial statement in order to establish any need for alimony.

Step 4

Complete Child Custody and Support forms. These are available from the family court department at the county courthouse. They involve providing names, birth dates and Social Security numbers for all minor children, as well as information on both parents' weekly incomes and any child care and medical care costs either parent pays.

Step 5

File your complaint. Once completing the complaint, as well as the other required documents, they must be submitted to the register of the Probate and Family Court located in the plaintiff's county of residence with a small filing fee.

Step 6

Serve your spouse a copy of the complaint by having a process server personally deliver it. This is necessary because you must provide notice of the separate support proceeding to your spouse.

Step 7

Draft a separation agreement. A Massachusetts court is not permitted to divide property during a separate support proceeding. This means that spouses or their attorneys must prepare a separation agreement stipulating how marital assets will be divided. If the spouses have an amicable separation, they may also be able to agree to custody, visitation, child support and alimony.

Step 8

File the separation agreement with the register of the court. This agreement between the spouses is only considered a contract. One spouse may file a claim for breach if the agreement is violated, but this is a timely and costly means of relief. However, by paying a small filing fee, the agreement will be filed with the court and signed by a judge. It becomes court ordered, permitting court intervention if it is not obeyed.

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