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How do I file a case in the Probate and Family Court?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Created June 2020
  1. Find the court where you need to file.
  2. Fill out your paperwork.  This usually includes the complaint.
  3. Bring your complaint and paperwork to the court. Pay the filing fee.
  4. Get a summons from the court clerk and serve the opposing part.

Find where to file.

Which court you file a case in will depend on

  1. The type of case you are filing.  And,
  2. Where you and the other party currently live.

Sometimes you file the case in the Family and Probate Court in the county:

  • Where you live.
  • Where your child lives.
  • Where the other party lives.

If you are not sure where to file your case, ask a Lawyer for the Day or a court clerk.  Call your local probate and family court to ask the hours of the in-person Lawyer for the Day Program. If there is no Lawyer for the Day program, ask to talk to someone in the clerk’s office. Filing your case in the wrong court could lead to many delays.

Find the Probate and Family Court in your county.

Fill out your paperwork.

The paperwork you need to fill out and give to the court is different for each type of case. 

Paperwork for a Divorce case

Paperwork for a Separate Support case.

Paperwork for a Paternity case.

Paperwork for Custody case.

Paperwork for Parenting Time (visitation).

A case takes many months to be decided.  You may need the judge to Order something quicker, like custody, child support payments or for your spouse to let you use the car. If you need a court Order right away file a Motion for Temporary Orders.

Learn about Temporary Orders like

  • What to file,
  • How to file and
  • What happens after you file.

Bring your paperwork to court.

The cost to file a case depends on what type of case you file. Find the cost for your type of case on the Court’s website.  The court charges an extra $5 for the summons.

If you cannot afford the filing or summons fees, you can ask the court to “waive” the cost.  File an Affidavit of Indigency with the court.

Get a summons from the court clerk and serve the opposing party.

1)The court clerk will give you a copy of your complaint and the summons:

  • In-hand on the same day you file, or,
  • By mail. 

2)Bring your paperwork to a sheriff or constable. They will serve your complaint.

Learn more about what you must do to serve your complaint.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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