Massachusetts divorce22 Massachusetts Divorce Terms to Help You Understand Divorce in Massachusetts

Divorce is hard enough. But what makes Massachusetts divorce even more difficult and costly is when people have the wrong information. People often seek advice and information from friends, family members, co-workers, the internet, and several other places. While some of this information can be helpful, people sometimes receive incorrect information. Having correct information during the divorce process prevents unnecessary disputes and is vital to ensure each person is on the same page when “divorce terms” are thrown around.

Here is an alphabetical list of common Massachusetts divorce terms, with accurate definitions, as they relate to a Massachusetts divorce:

  • Alimony – Spousal support sometimes paid by agreement of the parties or by court order.
  • Arbitration – A legally binding, non-judicial procedure held before a neutral third party, the “arbitrator,” who acts as private judge. To learn more about arbitration for a divorce, click here.
  • Child Support – Court-ordered or voluntary payments from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Child Support is not tax deductible by the paying parent and is not included in the recipient-parent’s taxable income.
  • Child Support Guidelines – State guidelines requiring the non-custodial parent, under normal circumstances, to pay child support based on a percentage of gross income.
  • Child Support Worksheet – A form to calculate the child support guidelines that is required in all divorce cases involving children. For more information about child support, click here.
  • CustodyLegal: A legal status or “custodianship” vesting authority to approve all major decisions affecting a minor child. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208, Sec. 29 defines legal custody as follows:
    • Sole Legal Custody: one parent shall have the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.
    • Joint Legal Custody: continued mutual responsibility and involvement by both parents in major decisions regarding the child’s welfare including matters of education, medical care, emotional, moral and religious development. Joint legal custody also means shared legal custody.
  • Custody – Physical: Relates to the physical location of the child. Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208, Sec. 29 defines physical custody as follows:
    • Sole Physical Custody: a child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to reasonable visitation by the other parent, unless the court determines that such visitation would not be in the best interest of the child.
    • Joint Physical Custody: a child shall have periods of residing with and being under the supervision of each parent; provided, however, that physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure a child’s frequent and continued contact with both parents. Such terms as “sole,” “primary,” “shared,” and “joint” are used to describe various parenting and visitation plans.
  • Department of Revenue – The Massachusetts agency responsible for child support enforcement.
  • Equitable Division of Property – Massachusetts is an equitable distribution state (not a community property state) meaning that all property, whenever or however acquired, regardless of legal title, is subject to equal or unequal division.
  • Irretrievable Breakdown – The legal ground for a no fault divorce, also known as “1A” divorces because they are granted under Chapter 208, Section 1A of the Massachusetts General Laws.
  • Joint Petition – The process in which both parties ask the court to do the same thing, e.g., granting a no-fault divorce.
  • Judgment of Divorce Absolute – The court’s final judgment after expiration of the judgment nisi period. Upon this date you are legally divorced and can remarry. Generally, the final decree occurs automatically upon termination of the waiting period. Additional court filings and appearances are not required.
  • Judgment Nisi – The initial, temporary judgment of divorce. When courts grant divorces, their judgments are not final until the expiration of a statutory “waiting period” known as the nisi period. It begins when the judgment nisi enters and ends upon entry of the “judgment absolute” on the docket.
  • Jurisdiction – The court’s legal authority to hear your case and issue legally enforceable orders and judgments. The Probate and Family Court in the county where you last lived together has jurisdiction over the divorce, unless neither party currently lives in such county.
  • Mediation – An informal, voluntary process allowing parties to work with a neutral third party (the “mediator”) to develop the terms of their divorce and separation agreement. For more information about divorce mediation in Massachusetts click here.

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  • Memorandum of Understanding – A divorce term sheet negotiated by parties seeking a no-fault divorce, usually with the help of mediators, that will be converted into a separation agreement to be filed with the court to get a divorce.
  • Parent Education Programs – A mandatory class parents must attend separately before divorce. For upcoming programs at MWI click here.
  • Probate and Family Court – The Massachusetts trial court with jurisdiction over divorce.
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) – A court order directed to a “plan administrator” or “custodian” allocating retirement benefits between spouses.
  • Restraining Order – A temporary court order prohibiting a party from certain activities. Issued in response to a motion, restraining orders often are issued to protect marital assets and to protect against domestic violence.
  • Separation Agreement – A legally enforceable, spousal contract settling all divorce matters. Click here to read, “Separation Agreement – A Confusing Name for an Important Document.
  • Uncontested Divorce – A divorce in which the parties agree on all matters as set forth in their separation agreement. Many spouses who want an uncontested divorce work with a mediator.

If you have questions about a divorce term in Massachusetts, contact us at divorce@mwi.org. If you would like to add a term, please use the comments section below.

This list of terms was compiled by Massachusetts Divorce Mediator, Josh Hoch. Josh can be reached at MWI at 617-895-4028 and jhoch@mwi.org.