Jeff Manganaro
Spring 2007
Advanced Legal Research

Pathfinder: Divorce Law in Massachusetts

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION 1
II. OTHER PATHFINDERS 1
III. PRIMARY AUTHORITY 1
  A. Statutes  
  B. Child Support Guidelines  
  C. Cases  
  D. Court Rules  
IV. SECONDARY AUTHORITY 4
  A. Treatises  
  B. MCLE  
  C. Journals/Newspapers  
  D. Practice Guides  
V. EXAMPLE RESEARCH PATH 7

I.  Introduction


Divorce law in Massachusetts covers more than just fault and no-fault dissolution of marriage. In fact, there are many interrelated topics such as: property division, spousal support, child custody, child support, visitation, and medication. The topics that encompass divorce law in Massachusetts are primarily governed by statute. The statutes provide standards under which a judge (never a jury) is to decide the outcome of each case. Since the standards are to be weighed on a case by case basis, they were drafted in fairly vague language. Cases, therefore, are important to illustrate the meaning of the standards and provide a scope of its reach. Note that Massachusetts is not a Community Property state, so every asset held by the divorcing couple is considered in the division of property, alimony, and child support determination.

II.  Other Pathfinders:

III. Primary Authority:

A. Statutes:

Statutes primarily govern divorce law in Massachusetts. The most important statutes are those in G.L. c. 207 – c. 210. Statutes In Print Statutes Online

B. Child Support Guidelines:

Every four years Massachusetts re-writes the Child Support Guidelines (most recent being February 2006). The Guidelines are forms that the courts must use to determine the child support order. It considers income from both parents and other factors. The court can only deviate from the Child Support Guideline if the income of one or both the parents is above a certain amount. The guidelines can be found at: Generally online sources of the guidelines are best because you can be sure that you have the most current version. In addition, the online sources allow you to type the information directly into the form and print it.

C. Cases:

Generally, it is difficult to locate a seminal case in this field of law. For the most part, case research is aimed at defining the scope of the standard set forth in the statutes. The best place to find relevant cases is in the annotations of the statutes, or in secondary sources. Nevertheless, the following cases are a few of the important ones in Massachusetts divorce law: To find cases relevant to your topic, you can search West’s Digest or online at Westlaw or Lexis Nexis. In the Digest, the Descriptive Word Index lists “Divorce”, and there are many subtopics under this category. Online at Westlaw, you can limit your search to Massachusetts family law cases database, MAFL-CS. The relevant key numbers include:

D. Court Rules:

The Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts has its own set of procedure rules, titled Domestic Relations Rules of Procedure. These rules are largely modeled after the Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be found at:

III. Secondary Authority:

There are many secondary sources available on divorce law in Massachusetts. Here are some of the more useful and comprehensive sources. I list them in no particular order:

A. Treatises:

Massachusetts Practice Series – available in print in the New England Law Library reference section, or online at Westlaw. The relevant sections include: Generally anything authored by Charles P. Kindregan or Inker are good sources. For example:

B. MCLE

C. Journals / Newspapers:

D. Practice Guides

IV. Example Research Path:

The right path to follow when researching divorce law in Massachusetts depends on your available resources and expertise in the field. I generally do the following:
  1. Start by looking in the Massachusetts Practice Series to get background information and citations to cases and statutes.
  2. From there, I proceed to read the relevant statutes. I try to get the rule I need to apply, and more case citations from the statutes’ annotations.
  3. Finally, I would pull all of the cases that I found in the annotations and secondary sources. I would then Shepardize or Keycite the ones I liked, and then try to use these to find additional cases by using the headnotes, key numbers, or Keycite references. A keyword search in the Massachusetts Family Law Cases database is also a good way to find additional cases.