Separate Support

Separate support refers to an order or judgment of support of a spouse or children (which can also address parenting time, health insurance and life insurance obligations) issued by a court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Such judgment dictates that one spouse has the ability to support the family from which the spouse is separated but the spouse is failing to do so. A separate support judgment essentially enforces the legal obligations of a couple while the marriage continues.  The benefit of a separate support trial is that it offers spouses the opportunity to separate but stay married.  Given the various issues and the presence of multiple solutions at the end of a marriage, parties often benefit from consulting with a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer who knows the relevant law related to separate support actions.  Some essential information about separate support trials will be discussed in this article, including the following pieces of information:

  • The Difference Between Separate Support Actions and Divorces. Sometimes when spouses separate, the couple chooses to live apart but remain married for a variety of reasons which may be of a financial, personal, or religious nature.  Other times, couples choose to remain married for the sake of the couple’s children. Judgments of Separate Support do not end marriages but can address many of the same issues as divorce including alimony, child support, custody, or visitation. Separate support is also different from Separation Agreements, which are part of a divorce.
  • Grounds That Must Be Demonstrated When Filing a Complaint for Separate Support.  A party who files a separate support complaint must demonstrate that the spouse against whom the complaint is filed has failed to provide suitable support, that the other spouse has deserted the person who filed the separate support complaint, and that there is a justifiable reason for why the spouses live apart (or should live apart) even if the spouses are not currently separated.
  • How Separate Support Actions are Initiated in Massachusetts. Individuals can be pursuing a separate support trial in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by filing a Complaint for Separate Support with the appropriate Probate and Family Court.  Within this proceeding, in addition to support, the Court can address the issues of custody and parenting of the children, health and life insurance.
  • Separate Support Judgments Do Not Include Property Division. Under the terms of a Complaint for Separate Support, a court cannot divide any property because separate support judgments do not have the same finality as judgments of divorce.  While parties can choose to divide property, this division of property could later be subject to intervention by a court if the separation does turn into a divorce case at a later time.
  • Who Can Initiate A Separate Support Case.  Separate support cases are also different from divorces in that separate support cases can be initiated by a guardian, a spouse who desires to remain married but live apart, a minor child, or the Department of Transitional Assistance in the event that the family receives public benefits.

If you are debating whether to file a complaint for separate support rather than a divorce or you have been served with a complaint for separate support action, give us a call or write to us – we can answer your questions and provide information at our free initial consultation.

Resources for Separate Support

Massachusetts Court System Separate Support

Department of Transitional Assistance


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