Grounds for Divorce – Part 1 – Irretrievable Breakdown

shutterstock_429855238General Laws c. 208, § 1A and G. L. c. 208, § 1B comprise the two Massachusetts no-fault divorce statutes, which allow for divorce on the ground of “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In order to obtain a divorce in Massachusetts, the spouses must join together in a joint petition for divorce, or one party initiates the case by the filing of a complaint.  With a joint petition, both parties must attest via a notarized affidavit that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown.  With a complaint, the moving party must set forth a ground for the divorce, which can include the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown.

What is an irretrievable breakdown?

There is no test to be met to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. All that is required is for one spouse to feel, subjectively, that the marriage is over.  Neither G.L. c. 208 §1A nor §1B contain a requirement that a spouse enumerate any objective factors that would lead a court to the conclusion that a marriage is irretrievably broken.  Rather, a party (or both) can simply attest that the relationship has ended with no hope of reconciliation.  In adopting no-fault divorce grounds in 1975, the Legislature implicitly recognized that the parties to a marriage should be able to make personal decisions about marriage and divorce free from excessive state control. Even where one party does not agree that there has been an irretrievable breakdown, the Court will grant a divorce to the party who no longer wishes to be married.  The no-fault ground simplified the divorce process by removing a layer of proof of particular conduct on the part of one spouse and is now, by far, the most common ground cited.

Stay tuned for my next post where the fault grounds for divorce will be explored.