How Does An Uncontested Divorce Work in Massachusetts?

When you decide it’s time to split, you want it done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Who wants to waste time, energy and money battling in divorce court? In MA, if both parties are in agreement on all the key terms, they can proceed with an uncontested divorce.

To be able to take advantage of this type of divorce, all of the issues must be sorted out in advance. If there is any issue on which the parties do not agree, the parties will have to file “contested” to move the divorce forward.

The key issues in divorce include alimony, property division, debt responsibility, life insurance, health insurance, and tax filings. If there are children involved, you also have to decide on child custody, parenting time, child support, and how you’ll handle college expenses.

Once all terms are agreed upon, the documents are drafted, signed by the parties and filed with the court, along with the filing fee, which as of March, 2020, is $215.

The court then sends notice to the attorneys/parties of the divorce hearing date, usually a few weeks out. This is the event at which the divorce is approved by the judge.

At the divorce hearing, the judge and/or lawyers must ask the parties some basic questions to make the divorce official. The judge asks both parties if they reviewed the other’s financial statement and believe there was full and fair disclosure of all income, assets and liabilities. Next, the judge asks if both parties read and understood the divorce agreement and signed it willingly.

Although most agreements are accepted by the court, a judge can reject one if it’s perceived as blatantly unfair to a party. In that case, a judge may request that the parties reconsider the problematic issue. Sometimes, this takes the form of the judge recommending that one of the parties consult with an attorney.

If the judge accepts the agreement, during the hearing, typically the plaintiff is asked by either the judge or his/her attorney a series of questions referred to as “the colloquy.” This consists of the following questions in substance: Were you married to the other party on (marriage date)? If there are children, the person will be asked whether the children (by name) are children of the marriage. Also, on (breakdown of marriage date), did you suffer an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage? Did you last live together in (County of filing) on (date of separation)? Does the breakdown of the marriage continue to exist (Yes)? And finally, is there any change of reconciliation (No)?

Once the judge approves the agreement, it becomes final in 30 days, then 90 days after that, it becomes official. Nothing else needs to be done by either party for purposes of completing the divorce after the hearing. After about 30 days, the court typically mails to the parties/attorneys the divorce nisi document, which states that the divorce is final and allows for a name change if requested by either party.

Although uncontested divorces are typically more efficient and cost-effective than contested cases, committing too soon to an uncontested divorce can produce bad results for some. If you have significant money or time with children on the line, before negotiating terms with your spouse, you may want to consider consulting a reliable divorce lawyer. A common mistake people make is to negotiate and even agree on terms before consulting with an attorney.

The result is that you may agree to terms that can seriously compromise you long-term, and after making a commitment to the other spouse, this can be difficult to reverse and cause significant strain. This can potentially make the divorce more difficult and contentious than necessary. Therefore, if there’s significant money or time with children on the line, you may want to consider consulting with a divorce lawyer before launching into negotiations.

If done correctly, uncontested divorces can be quick and painless. Do your homework, be civil, and you may be able to finalize your divorce quickly and painlessly.

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

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