Who Can File for Divorce in Massachusetts?

Whether or not you can file for divorce in Massachusetts comes down to what ties you or your spouse have to the Commonwealth and whether or not those ties are sufficient enough to justify use of the Court’s time and resources to resolve your divorce matter. 

While access to the Courts has changed considerably since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, they are still operating and hearing cases. Currently, most family law and divorce matters are being handled via zoom or teleconference with electronic filing available for most matters. Each division of the Probate and Family Court is handling this process slightly differently, but a qualified divorce attorney will be able to help you navigate smoothly through the process.

In fact, since the pandemic started most Massachusetts divorce lawyers are reporting an increase in divorce filings and other family law related matters as a result of the shelter in place mandates and other Covid-related parenting disputes. 

Massachusetts is a state with a high percentage of healthcare, technology, and education workers who may come to the state for a short time such as six months or a year. What can they do if they want a divorce? 

You can file for divorce in Massachusetts if you are not from Massachusetts, but you have to meet certain criteria and the court will examine special circumstances on a case by case basis.  

Generally on or both spouses need to reside in Massachusetts for at least one year. However, you may still be able to get divorced in Massachusetts even if you don’t meet this basic requirement, but the analysis is slightly more complicated. It depends on a few factors, including: how long the couple has lived in Massachusetts, and/or how long the individual filing for divorce has lived in Massachusetts, or if the marriage broke down while they either of them was living in the state. However, even if one or both spouses was not in Massachusetts over the previous year but maintained a permanent residence in Massachusetts you will likely still be able to file for divorce in Massachusetts. 

Covid-19 has made this analysis all the more relevant and potentially complex. Here is one scenario for example: let’s say that a couple decided that they were going to ride out the pandemic separately, living in separate states. Let’s imagine one spouse decides to take refuge in MA to stay safe during the pandemic, but also comes to take care of an aging relative or friend and decides to stay on to ride out the storm. 

How long do you need to be in Massachusetts before you can file for divorce in the state? Do you have to stay for a period of time? What if your marriage breaks down while you are here during the pandemic? 

If we look at the law we can see that it is possible for someone to meet the alternative jurisdictional requirements if the cause of the divorce occurred in Massachusetts. 

“Where parties to a divorce action have never lived together as spouses in Massachusetts, a divorce may not be adjudged unless the plaintiff has satisfied either (1) the “one-year residency requirement” under G. L. c. 208, § 5 (§ 5); or (2) the “alternative jurisdictional requirements” of § 5, by proving that he or she was domiciled in Massachusetts at the commencement of the divorce action and the “cause” for divorce occurred within Massachusetts. Caffyn v. Caffyn, 441 Mass. 487, 487-488 (2004). See § 5.” The law goes on to state that each case needs to be looked at individually to meet the standard. (See Rose vs. Rose.)

Whether a plaintiff has maintained an actual, continuous residence in the Commonwealth sufficient to satisfy the one-year residency requirement of § 5 is a question of fact that must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

If you are considering getting a divorce in Massachusetts and if you are a new resident of Massachusetts or not sure if Massachusetts is the proper location to file, we can help you untangle the complexities that are present in a complex divorce or high-net-worth divorce involving issues with Massachusetts residency and jurisdiction. Contact Mansur Law Group today at (978) 341-5040.