An action for separate support is different from a divorce. It does not dissolve the marriage. It is an action which addresses one spouse’s ability to provide support and maintenance for the other spouse, including child support. One of three grounds must be alleged and proven for this action: (1) the spouse has failed to provide support for the other spouse; (2) the spouse has deserted the other spouse; or (3) there is justifiable cause for living apart whether or not the spouses are actually living apart. A complaint can be brought by a spouse, a guardian, or the Department of Revenue if a family receives public assistance. An action can be brought under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 32 or 32F.
An action for separate support cannot be brought if another action is pending for annulment, separate support or divorce. A divorce action can be filed subsequent to an action for separate support and any order in the divorce will replace the separate support order. A separate support action under Chapter 32 can address not only support, but custody issues pertaining to the children. When an order is made for support, the court must determine if health insurance is available at a reasonable cost for the spouse or child for whom the support is ordered. An action under Chapter 32F, can be filed with the probate and family court or the district court. If the action has been filed with the district court, it can be transferred to the probate and family court.
When the court makes an order of support under Section 32 per the statute, it will consider the income, assets, number of persons to be supported, expenses of the parties, marriage or remarriage of the spouse to be supported, among other factors. However, child support guidelines are now widely utilized in determining support orders.