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What grounds can be claimed for a Massachusetts divorce?

For much of U.S. history, the concept of divorce has been controversial. It is an area where many people’s religious beliefs collide with civil law. And, in Massachusetts, with its puritan history, it is expected that there were once restrictions on the practice. While modern legal and social norms have created a different way of looking at divorce, some of the older ideas remain.

This can be seen most keenly in the continued existence of “fault-based” divorces. While the lion’s share of marriage terminations in Massachusetts are “no-fault” divorces, it is still possible for an individual to file a petition for termination of marriage based upon one of these other grounds.

In a no-fault divorce, all that must be shown is that the couple is statutorily eligible for divorce, and that the marriage has reached a point of irretrievable breakdown. Fault-based grounds, on the other hand, will require more specific things to be proven.

The fault grounds that exist in Massachusetts law generally have to do with ill-treatment of one spouse by the other, or the breaking of certain marriage vows. So, for example, one could file for divorce based on a spouse’s adultery or cruel and abusive treatment.

Some other grounds have to do with a spouse’s absence, such as desertion or a prison term of over five years. The other fault-based grounds go back to older concepts of what marriage was, and include failure to support a spouse, gross, confirmed intoxication and even impotence.

Fault-based grounds of divorce may entail a lengthier and expensive process, especially as the other spouse is unlikely to agree to a divorce on such grounds. Further, the emotional toll that can be taken by such accusations should be considered, especially if children are involved. But, in certain circumstances, there may be sound legal reasons to use such grounds. Those contemplating terminating a marriage may wish to consider consulting an experienced family attorney.