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

Produced by an AmeriCorps Project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services updated and revised Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed November, 2011
    1. To file a case you first need to figure out where to file it. The county you file in depends on the kind of case you are filing.
      • Usually, you can file the case in the county where you live.
      • Sometimes you can file a case in the county where your child lives.
      • Sometimes you have to file the case in the county where the other party lives.

      Find the Probate and Family Court in the right county.

    2. Go to the clerk's office in the Probate and Family Court or download the form from the Probate and Family Court Department Forms page.
    3. Tell the clerk what kind of case you want to file. The clerk will give you the forms you need. The forms are free. If you need a court order right away, tell the clerk that you also want to file a Motion for Temporary Orders. People usually ask for temporary orders for things that can’t wait, like custody and child support.
      The clerk will give you forms to fill out, including:
      1. A Complaint form. There is a special complaint form for each kind of case. Look at the chapter about the kind of case you are filing to find a sample of the Complaint form you can use.
      2. Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceedings. You need to fill out this form if you have a child. This is a form that tells the court whether or not there are other court cases about your child;
      3. Financial Statement; and
      4. Affidavit of Indigency. Fill out this form if you cannot afford the cost of filing the case, the summons (a court form), or serving the papers. The Affidavit asks the state to pay the costs. Write that you need the state to pay the filing fees and the cost of serving the papers.  There are places on the Affidavit for you to do that.
      5. For some kinds of cases, you may have to file a "certified" (official) copy of a document with the forms. For example, you have to file a certified copy of your marriage certificate if you file for divorce. A certified copy usually has a raised seal on it. The Probate and Family Court clerk will tell you if you need to file a certified document in your case.
      6. A motion form for Temporary Orders if you need one.

You can get blank copies of these forms for free in the clerk's office of any Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts. You can also get blank forms on the Probate and Family Court’s website.


Some courts have people who can help you fill out the forms. Ask the clerk at the courthouse if your court has anyone to help you.

It is often helpful to look at forms that have already been filled out. There are samples of some forms that have been filled out on this website.

  1. Fill out the forms and give them to the clerk. The clerk will stamp each form with the date. You have "filed your case."
  2. If you have filled out an Affidavit of Indigency, the clerk can often decide whether you have to pay the filing fee or for the summons without showing your Affidavit to a judge.
  3. When the papers are filed, the clerk hands you a summons.  The summons has an official court seal on it.  You fill out parts of the summons yourself. Here is a sample summons.
  4. After the clerk stamps the forms with the date, ask for two copies of everything. One copy is for you. The other copy is to "serve." The clerk may say that you need to pay for the copies or make the copies yourself. There will be a way to do this at the courthouse.

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