Divorce 101: A Quick Intro To Filing For Divorce In Massachusetts

Many couples start out in marriage with great hopes and expectations, only to end up in a relationship that unfortunately does not work. There are many steps in the divorce process in Massachusetts and just as many avenues to take depending on your situation. Here is a brief introduction to filing for divorce in Massachusetts and some of what you may encounter.

  • A divorce can be categorized as “no-fault” or “fault.”
    • Definitions of “fault” include adultery, desertion, cruel and abusive treatment, a prison sentence of five years or longer, among others.
    • “Fault” divorces are very rare in Massachusetts because there is no requirement to show or prove fault in order to get a divorce.
    • If a party files for divorce alleging fault, that party must prove the fault of the accused spouse in order to be granted his/her divorce.
    • In light of that fact, filing a Complaint for Divorce alleging fault is discouraged by most attorneys and judges.
  • “No fault” divorces mean that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and neither party is to blame for that irretrievable breakdown.
  • “No fault” divorces can either be “contested” or “uncontested”.
  • An uncontested divorce, or 1A Divorce, requires that the parties reach an agreement on each and every category relevant in their particular case.
    • Those categories include alimony/spousal support; child-related issues (i.e., custody, support, parenting schedule, etc.); asset and liability division; health insurance; life insurance; income taxes; etc.
    • The parties will file their Separation or Divorce Agreement with a Joint Petition for Divorce, along with several other documents, and request that the Court schedule an uncontested hearing.
    • A Judgment of Divorce Nisi will enter 30 days after the uncontested hearing.
    • Judgment of Divorce Absolute will enter 90 days after the Judgment of Divorce Nisi.  Therefore, the divorce will be final 120 days from the date of the uncontested hearing.
  • If the parties are unable to reach an agreement on every single issue in their particular divorce, their divorce will be categorized as a  contested divorce, or 1B Divorce, and will necessitate the filing of a Complaint for Divorce.
    • The party who files the Complaint for Divorce will serve the other party with a Summons and a copy of the Complaint and the served party will then have 20 days to file his/her Answer and Counterclaim, if any.
    • The Court will schedule a Pre-Trial Conference approximately, but at least 6 months from the date the complaint was filed.
    • The parties are required to meet with their attorneys, if any, prior to the Pre-Trial Conference in an attempt to reach an agreement.
    • If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the Court will schedule the matter for trial, which can occur up to 2 years or more after the complaint was filed.
    • Prior to the trial, if any, the Court may also grant Temporary Orders relative to such things as support, custody and a parenting schedule for children.
    • If the parties reach an agreement and appear before the Court in an uncontested hearing prior to the scheduled pre-trial conference, then the Judgment of Divorce Nisi will enter 30 days after that uncontested hearing date and the divorce will be final 90 days after that, in exactly the same way as described above.
    • However, if the parties reach an agreement 6 months or more after the complaint was filed and they appear before the Court in an uncontested hearing, the Judgment of Divorce Nisi enters that same day and the divorce becomes final (Judgment of Divorce Absolute) 90 days thereafter.

Despite the reasons for the failure of the marriage, it is always quicker, less costly and less emotionally damaging when parties are able to come to an agreement, even if a complaint has already been filed.  Even in the most amicable divorces, parties can feel overwhelmed, confused, lost and vulnerable.  Certainly when a divorce starts or turns volatile, those feelings intensify and are often matched with feelings of anger, resentment and vengeance.  Regardless of how a divorce starts or ends, an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney is vital in helping his/her client through the process, whether to assist in negotiating the best terms to an agreement or advocating zealously at trial.

If you are contemplating a divorce or a divorce action has already begun, call our office to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney and learn your options.

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