The Massachusetts Divorce Process: Know Your Options

The decision to file for divorce is never easy. When the determination has been made, it’s essential to understand the process, which varies by state.

To begin the divorce process in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, here are a few things to consider.

To file for divorce in Massachusetts, one of the following must apply: (1) you have lived in the state for one year, or (2) the reason the marriage ended happened in Massachusetts, and you have lived in Massachusetts as a couple.

You have several options available when it comes to legally dissolving your marriage: mediation, collaborative law, and litigation. Mediation is a cooperative divorce method whereby a neutral third-party (the Mediator) will guide a couple through resolving the issues and financial matters of divorce.

A collaborative divorce—or collaborative law process—combines the traditional divorce process and divorce mediation wherein each party hires his/her own collaborative attorney to represent them. It is a legal process enabling couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage to work with their collaborative professionals including collaboratively trained lawyers, coaches and financial professionals in order to avoid the uncertain outcome of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children without the underlying threat of litigation. The process allows parties to have a fair settlement. The voluntary process is initiated when the couple signs a contract (a “participation agreement”) binding each other to the process and disqualifying their respective lawyer’s right to represent either one in any future family-related contested litigation. The approached is team and goal orientated rather than individual and positional based negotiated.

Divorce litigation is the most complex of the three options. Each spouse is represented by an attorney who will prepare their case in preparation for a court trial where documents will be presented, and each party’s position will be argued. This process also involves negotiating a settlement while simultaneously preparing for a possible trial.

Massachusetts allows a divorce to be filed as ‘no-fault’ or ‘fault,’ and either of these can be contested or uncontested. A no-fault divorce is called an “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage” in Massachusetts and is a result of a marriage being broken beyond repair, but neither spouse blames the other.

There are two no-fault options: uncontested or contested. An uncontested no-fault divorce is when both parties agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down AND a written agreement about child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, and dividing marital assets has been agreed upon in advance of filing for divorce. A contested no-fault divorce, on the other hand, is filed when one (or possibly both) spouse believes the marriage has ended, but they are NOT in agreement about custody, support, or marital property issues.

When one spouse is considered at fault in causing the marriage to end, one of seven different fault grounds must apply. The person asking for the fault divorce must prove one of the following grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication
  • Cruel and abusive treatment
  • Non-support
  • Impotency
  • A prison sentence of 5 or more years

It is rare that fault based divorce petitions are filed in a no-fault state such as Massachusetts.

There are many steps and factors to consider when filing for divorce. Ultimately, a divorce is a legal agreement a judge will sign off on or issue a ruling after trial if no agreement has been reached. The final decision is legally binding, which is why having an attorney represent you and your interests is in both parties’ best interest.

Contact our office to have questions answered about your divorce options. Our skilled firm at Berid & Schutzbank, LLC can help you determine which process is best for your situation. We’re here for you every step of the way.

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