Massachusetts divorce law offers two types of divorce: uncontested and contested, and they are handled differently. Here is everything you should know about uncontested divorce in Massachusetts.
- 1 What is an uncontested divorce?
- 1.1 Requirements for an uncontested divorce in massachusetts
- 1.2 Difference between a merger and survival in a separation agreement
- 1.3 Filing divorce paperwork
- 1.4 How long does it take to finalize an uncontested divorce in MA?
- 1.5 What happens when an uncontested divorce becomes contested?
- 1.6 What takes place at an uncontested divorce hearing?
- 1.7 Can a postnuptial or a prenuptial agreement make it easier to have an uncontested divorce?
- 1.8 Can I change my name during divorce proceedings?
- 1.9 What are the benefits of an uncontested divorce?
- 1.10 When shouldn’t you file for an uncontested divorce?
- 2 Boston divorce lawyer
What is an uncontested divorce?
An uncontested divorce is officially known as a 1A divorce in Massachusetts. When the couple agrees that the marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot continue, they’ve created a written agreement regarding alimony, child support, child custody, and the division of marital assets.
Since there’s no trial, the process is faster, simpler, and less expensive than a contested divorce.
An uncontested divorce can also be referred to as a no-fault divorce, a no-contest divorce, or an amicable divorce.
Although the uncontested divorce process is simpler, it’s still emotionally tasking. To remain objective and meet all requirements, you need an experienced uncontested divorce lawyer in Massachusetts.
Requirements for an uncontested divorce in massachusetts
To file for a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts, you and your spouse should file for divorce based on the no-fault ground that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, fulfilled Massachusetts residency requirements, and agreed on several issues during the divorce.
When filing for a divorce in Massachusetts, you need a legal reason informing your decision. Legal grounds for divorce can be:
- Fault-based – where one cites a spouse’s misconduct
- No-fault reasons – spouses agree on irreconcilable differences
To file for uncontested divorces, spouses should agree their marriage is broken beyond repair.
The two ways to fulfill residency requirements include:
- You have resided in the state for at least one year, or;
- The cause to end the marriage occurred in MA, and you have resided in the state as a couple.
These residency requirements are designed to prevent couples from relocating to Massachusetts to file for divorce.
It’s often not clear when the cause of divorce happened. However, if you were sharing a home in Massachusetts when you agreed to end the marriage or moved out, you’d meet the residency requirement. But this is only if one spouse still resides in Massachusetts when filing for an uncontested divorce.
You should only file for an uncontested divorce if you are in complete agreement on key issues in the divorce:
- Child support, custody, visitation, and parenting plans
- Division of marital property and identifying who pays for retirement funds, stocks, individual property, vehicle insurance, or real estate
Unfortunately, agreeing on some issues can be challenging even for understanding couples.
You’ll need legal representation in Massachusetts to help you solve these problems and reach the best solution for both parties.
To start the divorce process, you need to fill out several divorce documents. These forms are downloadable from the state’s site. The forms needed are:
- Joint Petition for Divorce
- Affidavit of irretrievable breakdown (stipulates the cause of divorce and when it happened)
- Financial statement
- Record of Absolute Divorce
If you have a minor child, you’ll need to file additional forms:
- Affidavit disclosing care or custody proceeding
- Child support guidelines worksheet
Aside from these, you’ll also have to attach a copy of your marriage certificate and your separation agreement (signed and notarized)
Massachusetts doesn’t have specific agreement forms, but most divorce attorneys will get you the legal documents based on your circumstance.
You will also have to decide if you want a merged or survived separation agreement.
Difference between a merger and survival in a separation agreement
When an agreement merges, the provisions of the agreement get merged (absorbed) into the Judgment of Divorce and may be modified in the Probate and Family Court by way of a Complaint for Modification.
To file a Complaint for Modification, you must show that there has been a significant material change of circumstances and that change warrants a change in the agreement.
- For example, if you were ordered to pay child support based on your earnings when the Judgement of Divorce occurred, and then two years later you lose your job, or your income has decreased, you may file a Complaint for Modification, asking the court to reduce your child support obligation based on your current reduced income.
You can also file a Complaint for Contempt in the Probate and Family Court if the other party has failed to comply with those provisions that were merged into the Judgment.
- For example, if your spouse has failed to keep up with their child support obligations ordered in the Judgment of Divorce, you may file a Complaint for Contempt.
When an agreement survives, it means that the provisions have independent legal significance. This means that the portions of the agreement that survive do not merge (absorb) with the Judgment of Divorce and continue to exist as a separate contract between the parties.
That means you cannot go back to the Probate and Family Court to file a Complaint for Modification.
Filing divorce paperwork
After filling out all required divorce forms, you can file the divorce petition by mail or in person. If one spouse still lives in the county you once lived together; you should submit the paperwork to the Probate and Family Court in that county. If not, you can file the paperwork in either county of residence.
In Massachusetts, the filing fee for a divorce is $215. If you cannot afford this, you can request a waiver by filing an Affidavit of Indigency along with the divorce paperwork.
How long does it take to finalize an uncontested divorce in MA?
The couple will need to attend a court hearing to finalize the divorce. The judge will review the separation agreement during the hearing and ensure it meets all legal provisions and serves the children’s best interests.
If the separation agreement checks out and the couple meets the requirements for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts, the judge will approve the agreement within 30 days following the court hearing.
After these 30 days, the divorce process enters the judgment of divorce nisi. This is the period (90 days) between the judge’s approval of the separation agreement and when the divorce is absolute.
This 90-day waiting period gives the couple time to change their mind and do due diligence to ensure their spouse didn’t lie about their property.
Although an uncontested divorce takes about 120 days, it still takes a shorter time than a contested divorce.
What happens when an uncontested divorce becomes contested?
It’s not unheard of for a processed uncontested divorce to become contested even after the couple agrees on key issues. When it comes to signing the separation agreement or during the 90-day waiting period, one spouse may reconsider. When this happens, the divorce becomes contested, and the couple must go through a new process to resolve the arising issues.
What takes place at an uncontested divorce hearing?
Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, a judge must sign off on the divorce terms and issue a divorce order. In the case of uncontested divorce, the court doesn’t make decisions about the terms during the hearing. Instead, it reviews the terms of the separation agreement and asks clarifying questions.
Unless the judge discovers some illegal terms, they will approve the divorce.
Can a postnuptial or a prenuptial agreement make it easier to have an uncontested divorce?
Yes. If you agree on prominent issues when emotions aren’t high, you will likely have an uncontested divorce.
Can I change my name during divorce proceedings?
Whether you file for an uncontested or contested divorce, you have the option of resuming your former name. If you aren’t sure you want to do this when filing for divorce, you can file a motion for name change any time during divorce proceedings.
What are the benefits of an uncontested divorce?
The advantages of uncontested divorce in Massachusetts are as below:
- It’s faster since there are fewer negotiations and proceedings. You get to move on with your life sooner than later. You also get to avoid the stresses of a contested divorce, including discovery, hearing expert and character witnesses making motions, testifying, and introducing evidence.
- An uncontested divorce is cheaper even when attorneys are involved due to reduced court costs and attorney fees.
- It’s harmonious and reduces the probability of hurting each other’s feelings, which is key when children are involved.
- You remain in control. You don’t know what a judge will order with a contested divorce.
- Your financial documents are private and don’t become a public record like a contested divorce. This is important for those running their businesses.
When shouldn’t you file for an uncontested divorce?
We don’t recommend uncontested divorce when:
- Abuse. If there’s a history of emotional abuse and domestic violence or a power disparity within the relationship. Such situations give one spouse an unfair advantage during a divorce. Usually, the disadvantaged spouse should get uncontested divorce representation to advocate for their needs.
- The parties cannot communicate without fighting. If you are still determined to continue with the divorce, you’ll need to go with a contested divorce and hire an experienced divorce lawyer.
- Neither party is comfortable with the law, nor can they go through the paperwork alone. Although the uncontested divorce process is straightforward, you still need to read and understand different forms. If this proves intimidating, you should hire an attorney in Massachusetts to help you through the process.
Parousis Law understands divorce law requirements in Massachusetts and will help make the process smooth.
Divorce attorneys at Parousis Law are trained to help spouses resolve complex financial issues and special legal complications. Our experience with this divorce type allows us to provide you with the best possible representation for your divorce.
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