What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Massachusetts?

  • By:Karpenski & Schmelkin

After a married couple makes the difficult decision to end the marriage, the next step is to legally dissolve the marriage by filing for divorce. One of the decisions the Petitioner (spouse filing the divorce) must make before initiating the divorce process is the grounds to be used when requesting the divorce. Although some states have eliminated fault grounds in a divorce action, Massachusetts recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for a divorce.

Massachusetts No-Fault Divorce Grounds

In Massachusetts, Section 1A or 1B of Chapter 208 of the General Laws governs a “no-fault” divorce. A no-fault divorce only requires the Petitioner to allege that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.” In other words, neither spouse caused the marriage to fail. Although most states that no-fault divorce grounds only offer one type of no-fault divorce, Massachusetts offers two options referred to as a 1A or 1B divorce. Both are based on an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage; however, a 1A divorce is an uncontested no-fault divorce whereas a 1B divorce is a contested no-fault divorce. Different procedures are followed depending on whether you file a 1A or 1B divorce.

To obtain a 1A divorce, both you and your spouse must agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and you must have reached an agreement regarding all issues involved in the divorce, including child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, and the division of marital assets. The process for finalizing a 1A divorce is streamlined because there are no contested issues for the court to decide.

In a 1B divorce, the Petitioner alleges no-fault grounds when filing the divorce; however, the parties have not reached an agreement, meaning there are contested issues that must be resolved or decided before the divorce can be finalized. If the parties ultimately reach an agreement on all the issues, a 1B divorce can be converted to a 1A divorce.

Massachusetts Fault Divorce Grounds

Massachusetts also allows a Petitioner to allege fault grounds when filing a divorce. In essence, this means the Petitioner is alleging that the Respondent did something, or failed to do something, that led to the failure of the marriage. If the Petitioner alleges one of the available fault grounds in a divorce action, the allegation must be proven during the court proceedings that follow. Massachusetts recognizes seven fault grounds in a divorce, including:

  • Adultery
  • Impotency
  • Continued desertion for at least one year prior to the filing of the divorce complaint
  • Habitual intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of liquor or drugs
  • Cruel and abusive treatment
  • Gross, wanton, or cruel refusal or neglect to provide suitable support and maintenance for the other spouse (non-support)
  • A spouse’s sentence of imprisonment for five or more years.

Most of the fault grounds are self-explanatory; however, it should be noted that if “non-support” is alleged it must also be shown that your spouse had the ability to provide support but chose not to do so. In addition, if “desertion” is alleged as grounds for the divorce, you must prove that your spouse left voluntarily, without justification, and without your consent as well as that he/she had no intention of returning, and that you did not cohabit or have relations with your spouse for at least a year prior to the filing the divorce.


Posted in: Divorce