How Does the Process of Divorce Work in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, there are three ways that a couple can file for a divorce. The first way is to file a joint petition for a no-fault divorce, which is the goal in the mediation process. When this is done, both clients are petitioners rather than one being the plaintiff and the other the defendant. They are not suing each other and they are not serving each other with paperwork. Instead, they jointly state that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that there are irreconcilable differences between the two of them. As a result, they don’t get into any facts which may have led to the breakdown of the marriage.
Along with the court forms, the couple will file a marital separation agreement, which is the actual divorce agreement. This can be prepared by our firm. It’s a pretty comprehensive document and is anywhere from 10 to 20 pages. In order to complete it, we will discuss the care, custody and support for the children, as well as support for the spouse when applicable.
We’ll talk about health insurance, life insurance, tax issues, how the assets will be divided and how the liabilities will be allocated. Once all of the paperwork has been filed with the court, it will typically take about a month to schedule a hearing. There is one hearing that both spouses have to attend that usually takes less than 10 minutes. It’s not a lengthy hearing; it’s just time spent with a judge reviewing the couple’s paperwork and going through the agreement. From the date of the hearing, the divorce is finalized four months later.
The second way a couple can file for divorce is by way of a complaint for divorce. With a complaint for divorce, they can still file based on the same no-fault grounds, but the divorce is contested. Since it is contested, each client has their own attorney and they are suing each other. One person is a defendant and one is the plaintiff, and they could ultimately have a trial. They will have to go to court numerous times, and will ultimately leave the decision up to a judge. On average, this process takes anywhere from 14 months to two years from the date of filing.
The third way that someone can file for divorce in Massachusetts is by way of a complaint for divorce based on fault grounds. It could be any number of fault grounds, such as cruel and abusive treatment or adultery. Since Massachusetts is a no-fault state, it is rare for anyone to file this. It is also the most highly contentious and contested way to file.
Is There Any Benefit to Filing For Divorce Before Your Spouse?
We always encourage people to avoid filing for divorce before attempting mediation. Our firm focuses on mediation and we believe that most cases can be successfully mediated. We always encourage people to come see us and determine whether or not a fair and equitable agreement can be reached.
Sometimes we get clients who have already hired two attorneys and begun the litigation process before realizing that they don’t want to go down that ugly contested road. As a result, they end up coming in to work with our firm to mediate their divorce.
Is It Ever Too Late In The Process For Mediation?
It is never too late in the process for mediation. We have clients who as a first step work with us and mediate their entire divorce, and we also have clients who were litigating a month before trial when they decided to try mediation. Clients can start the mediation process at any point.
Can The Mediation Process Be Employed In Post-Divorce Modifications?
Modifications can be made through the mediation process. If circumstances change for a couple, they may need to modify a whole host of issues, such as custody arrangements, parenting plans, financial agreements, child support agreements, spousal support agreements and relocations. If one spouse was supposed to provide health insurance coverage and there was a job loss, then the couple can come back to mediation to modify who provides the health insurance benefits. Depending upon the specific change, the couple may be able to file the joint paperwork in court and have the court rule on it administratively. That would mean that the couple would not even have to appear.
For more information on Process Of Divorce In Massachusetts, a strategy session is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (508) 795-1557today.