Divorce Terms You Should Know In Massachusetts

Certain words are unique to divorce law or have a different meaning when applied to a divorce case. Following are certain terms associated with divorce actions and what they mean:

Adultery: One of the fault grounds for divorce in Massachusetts, adultery is sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse.

Affidavit: A sworn, written statement containing facts know to the preparer (affiant), often accompanying filings with the Probate and Family Court.

Alimony: The payments made by one spouse to another, in order to bring the receiving spouse closer to a level of financial resources enjoyed prior to the divorce; also referred to as maintenance or spousal support.

Annulment: A legal determination that a marriage did not in fact ever exist.

Arrearages: The term used to refer to the past-due amount of money owed by one spouse to another, such as with child support or alimony payments.

Automatic restraining order: Upon the receipt of service of a complaint for divorce, an automatic restraining order goes into effect, restricting either spouse from transferring or disposing of marital property without the other's consent or a court order.

Child support: Payments made from one parent to another for the financial support of un-emancipated children.

Child support guidelines: The formula used in Massachusetts to determine the amount of the child support obligation. The Child support guidelines consider, among other things, the respective incomes of the parties, costs of daycare and medical insurance and money paid for the support of children born from other relationships.

Cohabitation: The living together of two individuals who are not married. Cohabitation may now be grounds for termination of alimony under the Alimony Reform Act in Massachusetts.

Complaint for divorce: The document filed with the Probate and Family Court that initiates the divorce proceeding. The complaint for divorce includes the grounds for seeking the divorce along with the relief being sought, such as child custody and visitation, child support, alimony/spousal maintenance and a division of the marital property.

Contempt: The intentional failure to abide by an order of the court. A person found in contempt for not obeying a prior court order may be required by the court to pay for the costs and attorney fees incurred by the party seeking to enforce that prior court order and, if sufficiently egregious (such as a continued failure to pay child support), can be ordered to serve time in jail.

Custodial parent: The parent who has physical custody of the child, meaning that the child is living primarily with that parent. The parent who does not have physical custody of the child is referred to as the non-custodial parent.

Contested divorce: Any divorce which has one or more issues on which both parties are not in agreement is a contested divorce filing and must therefore be decided by the court.

Discovery: The mechanism for obtaining information and documents prior to trial. The methods of discovery can include interrogatories (written questions), requests for the production of documents and the deposition (sworn testimony) of individuals.

Divorce decree: The document issued by the Probate and Family Court which confirms that the parties will be divorced. In Massachusetts, a decree nisi is issued which, depending on the procedure used to obtain the divorce, will result in the divorce becoming final in either 60 or 90 days, without any further order being issued by the court.

Emancipation: The age at which children are no longer considered financially dependent on their parents. An obligation to pay child support terminates upon the child's emancipation.

Grounds for divorce: A party seeking a divorce can claim various grounds (reasons) for seeking the divorce. There are both no-fault grounds (irretrievable breakdown of the marriage) and fault grounds (such as desertion, cruel and abusive treatment, adultery).

Imputed income: The calculation of what an individual is capable of earning (based upon age, education, past work experience, etc.), despite what the actual income may be. When appropriate, a court can impute income to a party in a divorce when making a determinations of child support, alimony and the distribution of marital assets.

Irretrievable breakdown: A no-fault ground for divorce whereby the spouse essentially states that the parties can no longer get along to the extent that the marriage has broken down and cannot be reconciled. This is sometimes also referred to as irreconcilable differences.

Joint legal custody: Both parents have the right to be involved in making decisions concerning the child's education, medical care, religious upbringing and other important matters affecting the child's welfare.

Joint physical custody: Situations where the child spends fairly equal time with both parents.

Maintenance: Another term for alimony or spousal support.

No-fault divorce: A divorce where neither spouse is accusing the other of having engaged in misconduct resulting in the end of the marriage. An irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is grounds for a no-fault divorce.

Non-custodial parent: The parent who does not have physical custody of the child, meaning that the child is living primarily with the other parent. The parent who has physical custody of the child is referred to as the custodial parent.

Parenting class: The parties in a divorce action who have minor children from the marriage are required to complete a parenting class. This parenting class is intended to provide them with an understanding of how the divorce (and the interaction between the divorcing spouses) has an effect on the wellbeing of the child.

Parenting schedule: Also referred to as the visitation schedule, the parenting schedule is the designated time that the non-custodial parent spends with the child. The parenting schedule can be specific, with particular dates and times (including holidays, birthdays and summer vacations) or can be more generally described.

Physical custody: The parent that the child lives with the majority of the time has sole physical custody. If where the child lives is equally divided, the parents have joint physical custody.

Removal: The taking of a child by a parent to live in another state. Depending on the circumstances, a parent seeking to remove a child out of Massachusetts may need to obtain permission from the court.

Separation agreement: The parties in an uncontested divorce enter into a separation agreement (sometimes referred to as a divorce agreement) which contains language as to how all of the issues have been resolved. The separation agreement is presented to the court for its finding that the agreement is fair and reasonable and was entered into without duress.

Spousal support: Another term for alimony or maintenance.

Uncontested Divorce: When the parties to a divorce are in agreement as to all of the issues.

Contact Our Divorce Attorney For A Free Consultation

For more information or to schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer, please contact the Law Offices of Ira C. Yellin, LLC, today. You can call our Franklin office at 508-528-8885, or send us an email.