How Long Does A Modification Case Take in Massachusetts?

You’re involved in a modification issue and may need to sort the issue out in court. How long does it take? Can the case be resolved quickly?

The answer is every lawyer’s two favorite words: it depends. A modification case can be resolved quickly or it can take awhile depending on the issues and ability and willingness of the parties to work together to resolve the issues.

Although there’s no certainty on how long the case may take, you can at least have an idea of what your modification process and timeline may look like based on the issues and factors discussed below.

First, a modification like any other family law case can be resolved quickly and easily if the parties are in agreement on the specifics. If the parties are in full agreement on the modification terms, they can file a joint petition for modification. This allows for the processing of the modification administratively by the court.

For a joint petition, the parties must fill out correct and file the proper documents and pay a filing fee. The court will then usually process them without the parties even having to appear in court! In some cases, the court may ask the parties to appear. But this usually only happens if the filing wasn’t done correctly or the terms aren’t clear. This is the fastest way to process a modification, and it can typically be processed in about a couple of weeks from the time the documents are sent to the court for final approval.

However, if there’s no agreement on the modification terms, the process takes longer.

Typically, the contested modification process goes as follows: the complaint is filed; it takes anywhere from 1-3 weeks for the court to process it and send the plaintiff the summons; the plaintiff then must ask a constable to serve the summons on other party; finally, the original summons and return of service has to be filed with the court.

If either party files a motion for temporary orders, which is common in a modification case, the parties get a court date anywhere from a couple of weeks to 2 months out for the temporary orders hearing. If the parties can work out their dispute at the temporary orders hearing, they can agree to go to “judgment” which finalizes the case.

If there’s no motion filed, or if the case is not resolved at the motion stage, the case next goes to the pretrial hearing stage. The “pretrial” can be anywhere from 2-5 months out from the filing of the summons and return, depending on the court’s calendar. The pretrial is an important hearing at which the parties negotiate and if there are any outstanding contested issues, they make their respective arguments to a mediator or the judge, usually through an attorney.

If the case still isn’t resolved at pretrial, the court has a few options; The judge may order a further pretrial, suggest mediation, or schedule the case for trial depending on the circumstances.

A further pretrial or mediation may be ordered if the judge feels there’s the potential for resolution. It’s typically scheduled anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months out. If the case is still not resolved after further efforts, the next step is trial.

The trial is essentially the final hearing on a case. The court aims to have modifications at the trial stage within 8 months from the start. However, depending on whether other interim hearings or events are scheduled, or if either party or the court needs a continuance at some point in the case, it may be farther out.

Like most other cases in the court system, modifications can be quick and easy or long and painful, depending on the issues, how reasonable the parties are and how willing they are to work together, and the court’s schedule.

There’s a big range on how long it may take for a modification case to be resolved. As with any other type of case, the more reasonable the parties and the more they can agree on, the sooner the case will be resolved.

If you’re facing a potential modification, you may want to consider scheduling an assessment with a reliable family law lawyer to break down the issues, educate you, and help you plan.

If you have any questions about modifications or family law issues in general, feel free to contact us.

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