To nurture, grow and protect a healthy marriage takes effort – a price couples are happy and willing to pay. But when there are constant fights and disagreements, many decide it’s healthier to divorce. As you prepare for this, you might wonder, is separation required before divorce in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts doesn’t have a legal separation, so you don’t need court permission to live apart from your spouse. However, separation agreements usually take place before a divorce to outline terms for dividing property, debt, and child custody.
Though not mandatory, the agreements make divorce easier as the terms are favored. If a couple cannot agree on who should move out, they can file for divorce and let the courts decide.
Divorce is emotional and difficult. Understanding the process and divorce laws can help to lighten the load. Let’s take a detailed look at how divorce is handled in Massachusetts.
How Long Do I Have To Live In Massachusetts To File For Divorce?
If the reason for your divorce happened outside the state, the plaintiff should have lived in Massachusetts for 1+ years before filing for divorce. But if the cause of your divorce happened in Massachusetts, then either you or your partner should be a resident of Massachusetts.
Is Divorce Your Only Option?
No. Married partners can opt to live apart but stay married for personal, financial, religious reasons, or the kids. In this case, you can decide to get a Judgment of Support.
Does it cost money to file?
Yes. Probate and Family Court levies fees for handling and filing some documentation. However, the court waives costs and fees for individuals on welfare or whose income is less than 125 percent of the poverty threshold.
To get these costs and fees waived, you need to fill and file an Affidavit of Indigency. You won’t have to pay constable or deputy sheriff fees when you file this form for serving court papers. Instead, the court will cover the costs.
Do I need a reason in Massachusetts?
No. Citing irretrievable breakdown in marriage is enough to file for a divorce because Massachusetts permits no-fault divorce that only requires one party to want out.
What’s the difference between a no-fault and fault divorce?
A no-fault divorce refers to when an individual files for a divorce without laying blame on their partner for the failure of the marriage. An at-fault divorce is when one files for divorce claiming that their spouse is responsible for the failure.
A Massachusetts judge will pass a fault-based divorce based on several reasons, including:
- Abandonment for 12 months immediately before you file for divorce. The abandonment should have been voluntary, without your authorization, without the intention to return, and without justification.
- Regular drug and alcohol abuse
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- When your spouse can provide but refuses to
- If your spouse is convicted to jail for 5+ years
In a fault-based divorce, claiming the plaintiff committed any of the above grounds isn’t a defense to the divorce filed. Also, fault divorce doesn’t give the plaintiff an advantage in alimony or marital property division. Instead, the judge considers the same factors in determining these aspects in fault and no-fault divorce processes.
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
It’s a process where the parties involved agree on all issues and put it in writing for the courts to approve. If there’s an issue the parties don’t agree on, it’s considered a contested divorce. If the parties agree on everything before filing for a divorce, they should file a joint petition for their divorce. Failure to this, the divorce will start as contested and later be amended to uncontested when the parties agree.
How long does an uncontested divorce take?
Uncontested divorces are finalized between 90 and 120 days. If the parties have a written separation agreement, the divorce timeline is a little closer to 120 days. Parties that agree on all issues might be eligible for simplified divorce processes. It is why it’s important to consult with divorce attorney Michael Parousis before filing for divorce.
How long is the waiting period in Massachusetts?
The waiting period, also known as the Nisi, is the time between the divorce judgment and when the divorce is final. In Massachusetts, this period is 90 days long. Couples that file a joint petition have to wait for 30 days before the 90-day Nisi period kicks in. This means it takes 120 days to the final divorce decree.
Do we have to go to court for an uncontested divorce?
Yes, there are court hearings for uncontested divorce proceedings as well. Massachusetts is a party to each marriage and participates in the divorce. The judge representing Massachusetts needs to determine the settlement is reasonable and fair for both parties. Moreover, they need to ensure the kids from the marriage are well protected after the divorce.
Usually, uncontested divorce proceedings are routine and fast. If any party cannot be present for the court hearing, the judge can accept an affidavit in place of their presence.
How does adultery affect the proceedings?
Adultery doesn’t affect the no-fault divorce proceeding. However, in a fault divorce, the innocent party must produce evidence of an affair. Usually, proving adultery is difficult unless you caught your spouse in the act.
If you cannot provide sufficient evidence to prove your claims of adultery, the judge might dismiss the case and recommend filing for a no-fault divorce.
Does adultery affect child support or child custody?
No. Massachusetts courts put the child’s interests above other factors during custody rulings. So if one parent committed adultery, it will not impact custody rulings unless the situation creates an unhealthy and unsafe environment for the children.
For instance, if a mother gets involved with an abusive partner and insists on having them around the kids, the court might limit or deny the mother’s time with the children.
Also, the court doesn’t consider adultery when ruling on child support. Instead, they consider individual earning abilities, current income, and the children’s needs. Moreover, the courts follow specific guidelines when calculating child support.
What happens if you change your mind about after filing?
If you change your mind before it’s Absolute, you and your partner can file for a dismissal. This will stop the process and won’t affect your ability to refile for a new divorce in the future.
What’s the difference between an annulment and divorce?
A divorce will end a valid and legal marriage. Even if you decide you want out of your marriage a week after the wedding, you need to file a divorce. On the other hand, an annulment is a proclamation that the marriage didn’t exist. If you find out your partner was married to another person, your marriage is invalid and is grounds to file for annulment.
Are the records public?
Yes. To hide this information from the public, you need to file a motion to have the state seal your records. Most courts grand the motion, especially if abuse was involved.
How do you modify the divorce agreement?
If you and your spouse agree to apply the changes, you must submit a signed modification to court. The judge will finalize and enter the modifications. If there’s no agreement, you’ll have to file a Complaint of Modification and prove to the court there was a significant change of circumstances since the original judgment. The request for these changes should be based on facts the court wasn’t aware of during the initial divorce proceedings.
Can you change your name before your it is finalized?
Before the divorce is finalized, you can change your name through separate legal proceedings. But if you prefer to change your name in a single step, you have to wait for the divorce order and then use the document to make the changes at the Social Security and DMV offices.
What’s the difference between collaboration and mediation?
Mediation is an informal process where a third party leads the discussions between the parties to help them reach an agreement. On the other hand, collaboration is a continuous process of negotiations between the parties until they agree.
How does one start the process?
The process starts by filing a Complaint for Divorce and relevant documentation at the Probate and Family Court. If you cannot afford fees and costs related to the process, you’ll submit an Affidavit of Indigency as well. The court clerk will approve and stamp the form and present you with a copy. You’ll also receive a Domestic Relations Summons that you’ll deliver to your spouse through the sheriff (service of process).
Before the divorce trial, either spouse can request the court for temporary orders concerning parenting times, visitation, child support, and legal custody. Either spouse must request the court for a pre-trial conference before the final hearing and trial.
Can you keep your address a secret?
If you need to hide your address from an abusive partner, file a motion requesting the court judge to impound your address. You’ll have to explain to the judge why the court should hide your address from your partner.
After filing for divorce, how long does it take to get a trial date?
Each case is unique and depends on several factors, including:
• How accurate you fill the court papers
• How long do you take to serve your spouse
• How long do you take to complete every step in the divorce process
• The grounds you use
• If the divorce is contested or not
• If negotiations and temporary orders are pending
• How busy the court is
Can I handle the divorce myself?
Massachusetts’ laws allow individuals to represent themselves in court on any legal process, including divorce. However, this is only advisable in special circumstances. You should only represent yourself when you and your partner agree with everything, including child custody, support, and grounds for divorce. It’s even better if both parties are representing themselves. It’s difficult representing yourself when your partner has a lawyer.
Who pays for your legal fees during in Massachusetts?
Usually, every party should cater to their legal costs of their Boston family law attorney during a divorce. But in situations where your spouse controls family expenses, and you’ve no funds to pay the fees, you can file a motion requesting the court to order your spouse to release funds you can use to pay for the fees.
Once the divorce is finalized, attorney fees are split between both parties. In some rare situations, the court can order one party to pay legal fees in full if it believes they defied a court order.
What is an “automatic financial restraining order” in a Massachusetts divorce?
After filing for divorce and the defendant is served, both parties are under an automatic financial restraining order. The order prevents either party from moving or spending money except when paying regular business and living expenses or paying for legal services. Moreover, they are prohibited from accruing debt in the name of the other or making changes to health and life insurance policies.
Do I need to attend a parenting course prior to the legal act in Massachusetts?
If you have minor children, you will have to attend a parenting course. This course is intended to help parents familiarize themselves with the problems children undergo when their parents live separately.
How is alimony calculated in Massachusetts?
The courts determine alimony by considering the ability of each partner to make money, how long the parties were married, their ages, presence of health problems that might inhibit holding a full-time job. Other issues include the future and present needs of children and behavior in marriage, including adultery, abuse, or abandonment.
Do alimony payments cease when I get remarried?
Unless there’s a special agreement between the parties, alimony ends when the recipient gets into a new marriage. Usually, if the recipient lives with another person for a continuous period (over three months), the alimony is terminated, reduced, or suspended.
Whether fault-based or no-fault based, contested, or uncontested, divorce in Massachusetts can be complex. Contact Parousis Law to guide and protect your rights and interests within Massachusetts’ law.