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Separation and Divorce

 

The main difference between separation and divorce is that divorce ends your marriage. Separation means you are still married, but you do not live with your spouse. You have to go to court to be divorced. You do not have to go to court to be separated.

What is a divorce?

A divorce is a judgment of the Probate and Family Court that ends your marriage.
Divorce judgments also include:

  • custody of children;
  • child support;
  • visitation with the children;
  • what happens to "assets" (like pensions, bank accounts, or stocks);
  • what happens with taxes (like who gets to claim the child as a dependent);
  • alimony (support for the spouse);
  • what happens to personal property (like a car or furniture);
  • what happens to real estate, like your house;
  • who gets to live in the home;
  • who has to pay the debts (like credit cards, electric bills, mortgages);
  • changing your name to the one you had before you were married;
  • possibly, an order for protection from abuse.

If you and your spouse can agree about all of these things, you can write up an agreement and ask the judge to approve it.  If you can agree on some things but not on others, you will have a chance to tell the judge. The judge will decide the things that you and your spouse cannot agree on. She will review your agreements to be sure they are fair.  If you cannot agree on any of these things, the judge will decide all of them at a trial. You and your spouse will both get a chance to testify. You will also be able to show the court documents and have witnesses testify.   

Do I have to get a divorce if I want to live apart from my spouse?

No. You do not have to get a divorce if you want to live apart. You can stay married and live in different places. You do not have to go to court to be “legally separated” in Massachusetts. It is legal to live apart from your spouse.

You still have to make decisions about money, property, and child custody and support.  If you and your spouse cannot agree, you can ask the judge to decide these things in a Complaint for Separate Support or Complaint for Support.

What is the difference between a Judgment of Divorce and a Judgment of Separate Support?

The main difference between a Judgment of Divorce and a Judgment of Separate Support is that a Judgment of Divorce ends the marriage. A Judgment of Separate Support does not end the marriage.

A Judgment of Separate Support can include orders of support for you, child support, custody and visitation. It can also decide who gets to stay in your home and what happens to things like bank accounts and personal property. You can get this judgment and still stay legally married.


Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last updated February 2010


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