Divorce can be a painful process, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lengthy and costly one. If you and your spouse are able to put aside your wounded feelings and work together, you might even be able to get an uncontested divorce without a lawyer, which will save you a lot of time and money.
This article will explain uncontested divorces in Massachusetts. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce is one where both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, such as custody and child support, property division, alimony, health and dental insurance cover for children, and any other issue relevant to your case.
Spouses who are unable to agree will have to go to trial on their divorce. At trial, a judge will decide all issues in your case based on the evidence presented. But keep in mind, you can still reach an agreement at any time before the judge issues a final order. An uncontested divorce in Massachusetts allows couples to retain control over their divorce and create the type of agreement best suited to their needs.
In Massachusetts, couples can seek a special kind of uncontested divorce called a "No-fault 1A Divorce." Divorcing couples can file for a 1A divorce when the spouses:
Spouses can reach a divorce agreement on their own or with the help of a mediator. For a court to recognize a settlement agreement as valid, both spouses must sign the agreement in front of a notary.
Along with a signed settlement agreement, a couple seeking a 1A divorce must file a joint petition for divorce, a joint affidavit of irretrievable breakdown, and individual income statements. If a judge decides that the couple has met all divorce and residency requirements, and the divorce agreement is reasonably fair, a judge will sign off on the divorce papers.
If everything goes smoothly and a judge accepts your divorce paperwork and agreement, he or she will enter a divorce order. In Massachusetts, a judgment of divorce will be issued 30 days after entry of the divorce order. Even when spouses agree, your divorce won’t become final until 90 days after the judge signs the judgment of divorce. See Mass. Gen. Laws Part II, Title III, Chapter 208 § 1A (2020).
There are a couple of preliminary rules that have to be satisfied before you can get divorced in Massachusetts. Keep these in mind before you get start your case.
Massachusetts has residency requirements for couples seeking a divorce. One of the two spouses must have been a resident of Massachusetts if the cause of the divorce happened in Massachusetts. However, the cause of the divorce happened outside Massachusetts, then one of the spouses must have been living in Massachusetts for at least a full year before filing.
When you file for divorce, you’ll need to state a "ground," or legal cause of the divorce. To seek a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts, you’ll need to cite an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as your grounds for divorce. In a no-fault divorce, there's no need to argue about intimate details of your marriage in a courtroom or prove that one spouse caused the marriage to fail. If you tell a judge that your marriage can't be saved, the court will give you a divorce.
If you’re handling your divorce without a lawyer, you’re the one responsible for knowing where and how to file your papers. A divorce without an attorney may be cheaper than a divorce with one, but it’s essential that you do things correctly. If you file your divorce paperwork in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out and you might have to start the process all over again. The Massachusetts Judicial Branch website can help you identify each trial court and the counties it serves so that your paperwork goes to the right place.
Massachusetts has a system of trial courts which have the authority to hear many kinds of cases. Each trial court is sub-divided into different departments, including a Probate and Family Department. Massachusetts law requires couples to file for divorce in the county where you or your spouse currently live. However, there's a big exception to this rule—if you or your spouse are still living in the last place where you previously resided together as a married couple, then you’ll need to file for divorce in that county.
You can access some basic divorce forms through Massachusetts Courts System Self-Help site. You’ll need to locate the correct forms and complete them. Two key documents you'll prepare are a joint petition and a written divorce separation agreement, which memorialize the terms of your settlement. Keep everything together, because things will only get more complicated if you don't. In any event, you'll need to file your signed agreement within 90 days of the day you file the petition.
You and your spouse will be "joint petitioners," which is like saying you're co-petitioners. Take your time and work carefully through the forms. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, your divorce could be delayed.
Once your paperwork is complete, the joint petitioners should take them to the courthouse for filing. The clerk of court will charge a filing fee, but if you can't afford to pay, don't worry. You can ask for a fee waiver form, which you will fill out and use to provide the court with financial information. If you meet the income guidelines, a judge will sign an order eliminating all fees for the duration of the case.
If you have questions about your paperwork, you can ask the court clerks basic questions. However, only an attorney, not a court clerk, can offer you legal advice. You may be able to get help through the Massachusetts Legal Help (legal aid and free divorce information). If you still have unanswered questions, you’ll probably need to consult with a local family lawyer.
A judge will review your paperwork to ensure that your agreement is reasonably fair, resolves all issues in your divorce, and serves the best interests of your children, if any. If your agreement meets these requirements, a judge will schedule your case for a final hearing.
At the final hearing, the spouses will give testimony by responding to some very brief questioning from the judge. The judge will sign the final divorce order if the terms are fair and reasonable and you’ve met all of Massachusetts’ requirements for an uncontested divorce.