Divorce is a legal procedure that dissolves a marriage and all associated legal duties and responsibilities. Assets and debts and the disposition of children are addressed in the process.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Divorce is a difficult experience, both emotionally and logistically. You can legally represent yourself, as Mass Legal Services has a wealth of support, but a divorce attorney is invaluable in managing the process and ensuring a fair outcome.
Can I Settle Outside of Court?
Court cases of any kind are expensive matters, both financially and time-wise. Court should be reserved as the final step once all alternatives have been exhausted first. Even once a case has been filed, things rarely go all the way to trial. Mediation, where a third party assists in reaching an agreement, can help resolve things prior to trial. If you don’t wish to divorce, but would like to live apart, you can get a legal separation. This may be desirable for religious or psychological reasons.
Types of Divorce
Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state, which means you can file a joint petition together with your spouse for divorce. No fault must be cited. This type of divorce is known as 1A. Another type of no-fault divorce is when one spouse files for divorce, stating the marriage has broken down irretrievably, also called a 1B divorce. Divorce can be contested or uncontested. An uncontested divorce means that both parties are in agreement with the terms of divorce. A contested divorce is when one party does not agree to the terms. Contested divorces are lengthy, costly and stressful.
Divorce Road Map
You must first determine jurisdiction for your divorce. In Massachusetts, state residency requirements mandate that you must have lived in state for six months before filing.
- The divorce begins with the filing of and responding to divorce papers.
- Next, the Financial Affidavit, a written disclosure of personal financial details, is given and received.
- The custody and a parenting plan will be required if there are children.
Massachusetts has a six-month waiting period before a divorce can be granted. During the divorce but prior to court, your attorney may need to file pendente lite orders. These temporary orders help legally decide things that may come up prior to the final orders. Education orders, protective orders, visitation schedules, bill responsibilities and other issues can be handled with temporary court orders.
The divorce process results in a legal agreement. Within the agreement, all issues are resolved and signed off on by the judge. Property and debt incurred during the marriage will be distributed equally in accordance with community property state law. This does not include gifts outside of the marriage or property obtained before the marriage. Periodic or lump sum alimony may be awarded based on need. Once the divorce details have been agreed to and the court has signed off on the agreement, the agreement is law.
Prior to divorce, you must file a parenting plan that details custody, visitation and how the child’s welfare will be cared for after divorce. Custody can be shared, as in joint custody or sole. Custody is usually shared equally. Legal custody refers to legal decisions that are made in the child’s best interests. Physical custody refers to where the child legally lives. Child support may be granted as well.
Divorces are complicated, and laws—especially for court orders, support and custody—change regularly. Seek the advice of an attorney if you are in need of help managing the process.