Massachusetts Divorce Definitions

This collection of definitions will help clarify some unique characteristics to the Massachusetts Divorce laws, process and paperwork which is filed with the court.

Filing Party Title:
Petitioner or Co-Petitioner

The spouse who will initiate the Divorce by filing the required paperwork with the court.

Non-Filing Party Title:
Respondent or Co-Petitioner

The spouse who does not initiate the Divorce with the court.

Court Name:
Commonwealth of MA, The Trial Court, The Probate and Family Court Department, _____________ Division

The proper name of the court in which a Divorce is filed in the state of Massachusetts. Each jurisdictional court typically has a domestic relations or a family law department or division.

Child Support Enforcement Website:

The state run office devoted to enforcing existing child support orders and collecting any past due child support.

Document Introduction:
In Re the Marriage of:

The lead-in verbiage used in the legal caption or header of the documents filed with the court. The introduction typically prefaces both spouse’s names.

Initial Divorce Document:
Petition for Divorce or Joint Petition for Divorce

The title and name of the legal document that will initiate the Massachusetts Divorce process. The filing spouse is also required to provide the non-filing spouse a copy of this document.

Final Divorce Document:
Certificate of Absolute Divorce

The title and name of the legal document that will finalize the Massachusetts Divorce process. This document will be signed by the judge, master, or referee of the court to declare your marriage officially terminated.

Clerk’s Office Name:
Office of the Clerk of the Probate Court

The office of the clerk that will facilitate the Divorce process. This is the title you would address letters to or ask for when contacting the courthouse.

Legal Separation:

The grounds for legal separation are: (1) a spouse fails without cause to provide support; (2) desertion; or (3) gives the other spouse justifiable cause to live apart. The court may award support to the spouse and children living apart. If the grounds for legal separation occurred in Massachusetts, 1 spouse must be a resident. If the grounds occurred outside of the state, the spouse filing must have been a resident for 1 year. [Massachusetts General Laws Annotated; Chapter 208, Section 20].

Property Distribution:
Equitable Distribution

The applicable Massachusetts law that will dictate how property and debt is to be divided upon Divorce.