Filing for Support

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

Can I file for support or custody without getting divorced?

Yes. You may want to stay married, but you need support and health insurance. You may also need custody of your children, while you are married, and you may need support and health insurance for them.

To get support while staying married, you can file:

  • a Complaint for Support if you do not need a custody order but you need support or health insurance for yourself or your child and you stay married; or
  • a Complaint for Separate Support if you stay married and you need
    • a custody order, and
    • support or health insurance for your child, and/or
    • support or health insurance for yourself.
Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services
Last Updated February 2010

File a Complaint for Support if you do not need a custody order but you need support or health insurance for yourself or your child and you stay married.

What court do I file in?

There is a Probate and Family Court in each county in Massachusetts.

If you are only asking for child support, you must file your Complaint for Support in the county where the child lives. You can file a Complaint for Support in the county where you live or in the Probate and Family Court in the county where your spouse lives.

How much does it cost to file a case?

The Probate and Family Court charges fees for filing and handling certain documents. As of July 1, 2009, there is no fee to file a Complaint for Support, but there is a charge of $5 for a summons. Also, deputy sheriffs and constables usually charge $35-$45 to serve the papers on your spouse.

Case
Filing Fee
Surcharge
Summons
Deputy Sheriff
or Constable Costs
Support $0 $0 $5 $35-$45

What if I cannot afford to pay the court fees?

You do not have to pay these fees if:

  • you get any kind of public benefits (welfare, Food Stamps, etc. or
  • your income is less than 125% of the federal poverty level; or
  • you can show that paying the fees would make it hard for you to pay your rent or mortgage or buy food or clothing.

If you cannot pay the fees, use the Affidavit of Indigency form to ask the court to let you file without paying the fees. This is called a "fee waiver." The form also asks the court to order the state to pay the deputy sheriff or constable to serve the court papers.

You will need to write your income (how much money you get every month) on the Affidavit. Write down all the fees that you need help with: filing fees, the costs of getting the deputy sheriff or constable to serve the papers, and any other costs that you need covered. The Affidavit form has spaces where you can write this information. The court may ask you for documents showing why you need the court to pay your costs.

Can I keep my address secret?

Yes. You can keep your address secret from your spouse if you need to do this to stay safe. File a motion that asks the court to "impound" (hide) your address. Write on the motion form why it is not safe for your spouse to find out where you live. Look at a sample Motion to Impound Address and attached Affidavit.

Filing a Complaint for Support

  1. Get a Complaint for Support form and instructions from the Probate and Family court website or from any probate and family court in Massachusetts. The full name of this form is "Complaint for Support Pursuant to G.L. c. 209 §32F." If you need child support you will also need a copy of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
  2. Fill out the Complaint for Support.
  3. File the Complaint. You can file a Complaint for Support in the Probate and Family Court in the county where you live or in the county where your spouse lives.
    When you file the Complaint:
    • Fill out an Affidavit of Indigency form if you cannot pay for a summons or the cost to serve the papers. If you can check either box A or box B on the form, check the box. The clerk will approve the form, stamp it, and give you a copy. This means the court will cover your costs.
    • File a motion to "impound" your address if you need to keep your address secret from your spouse to stay safe. Write on the motion form why it is not safe for your spouse to find out where you live. Look at a sample Motion to Impound Address and attached Affidavit.
    • File a motion for temporary orders if you need the court to order something right away (like child support). File the motion when you file the complaint and Affidavit of Indigency. Ask the clerk for a date for a hearing on your motion. Write the date on the motion form. There's a place on the form where you do that. You can also file it later if you need to.
  4. Serve the papers. The clerk will give you a Domestic Relations Summons. This is an official paper that tells your spouse when he must file his Answer to your case. The court can only decide your case after your spouse is served with the summons. Bring or send the summons and a copy of all the papers that you filed to a sheriff or constable to deliver to your spouse. If the court approved your Affidavit of Indigency, use a deputy sheriff to serve the papers. Give the deputy sheriff a copy of the Affidavit of Indigency so the state can pay his or her fees. When the deputy sheriff gives the papers to your spouse, it is called "service of process."
  5. Wait for the sheriff or constable to return the summons and "Proof of Service" to you. After the sheriff or constable serves the papers, he or she will return the original summons to you. On the summons, the sheriff or constable fills out, signs, and dates the section called "Proof of Service". Be sure to tell the deputy sheriff or constable to send the summons with the "proof of service" back to you.
  6. Make a "return of service". Return the signed original Domestic Relations Summons to the court. This is called making "return of service." Remember to make a copy of the signed original summons for your records.

What happens after I return the summons to the Court?

When you return the summons to the court, the clerk will look up your case to see if any court date has already been scheduled. If you filed a Motion for Temporary Orders, you will already have a court date. If your spouse files an Answer to your Complaint before you return the summons to the court, you will already have a court date.

If no court date has been scheduled, the clerk will schedule a "Case Management Conference". The Case Management Conference will be at least 30 days after you file the return of service.

What happens at a Case Management Conference?

At a Case Management Conference the judge will talk to you about your case. The judge can hear the case and grant a Judgment of Support if:

  • your spouse has not filed an Answer, or
  • you and your spouse have "settled" the case and the judge approves. "Settling" means that the two of you have agreed in writing about all the things that must be decided in a support case, like how much support for you, how much support for your children, and what kind of health insurance you or your children should have and who should pay for it.

If the court does not grant the Judgment of Support at the Case Management Conference, the court will assign the next court date. The next court date could be a Pre-Trial Conference or a trial date.

Going to trial - Getting a Judgment of Support

There will be a final hearing, also called a trial. At the trial the judge will decide your support case. Even at a trial, you and your spouse can settle the case with a written agreement that you sign and ask the judge to approve. The judge will issue a Judgment of Support. If the trial took a day or less, the judge must issue the judgment within 30 days of the trial.

Judgments are final. They cannot be changed later on unless there is a "significant change" in your or your spouse's situation. If there is a significant change, and you need a change in the judgment, you can file a Complaint for Modification.

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