As in any other state, divorce in Massachusetts is a complex legal procedure. Some of its stages and issues are governed by Massachusetts General Laws and Rules of Civil Procedure, and some depend on the unique circumstances of a particular couple.
Therefore, to prepare for the dissolution of marriage, you should be well aware of both the divorce process requirements and peculiarities and all the available options to make it as quick and smooth as possible. Let’s start!
Massachusetts Divorce Basics
When filing for divorce in Massachusetts, the spouses can allege fault or no-fault grounds for divorce.
When choosing fault-based grounds for divorce, the petitioner (the spouse initiating the divorce case) claims that some wrongdoing by their spouse (called the defendant or respondent) caused the marriage breakdown. If you are looking for a fast divorce, you would probably like to avoid this route, as fault grounds must be proven before the court, which typically leads to a lengthier proceeding involving multiple court hearings or even a trial.
In contrast, no-fault divorce does not require showing either party’s misconduct. The only no-fault ground for divorce in Massachusetts is “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage,” simply meaning that the spouses cannot get along anymore, and there are no prospects for reconciliation.
No-fault divorce in Massachusetts can be either uncontested or contested (called 1A and 1B Divorce). A contested no-fault divorce occurs when both spouses agree that the marriage has ended but cannot resolve all divorce-related issues like child custody and support, property division, spousal support, etc., out of court.
To be eligible for a 1A Divorce, the spouses must draft up a written contract (Separation Agreement) as evidence of the decisions made between them regarding all the divorce-related issues.
An uncontested no-fault divorce is the most straightforward and affordable way to terminate the marriage if the spouses are ready to negotiate and settle all their disputes without court intervention.
Uncontested Divorce Steps
The fastest way out of a marriage in Massachusetts is a 1A Divorce, where neither party is fighting. Let’s consider its main stages.
- Meet Massachusetts residency requirements.
Under Family Law, the spouses can apply for divorce within the state if:
- either of them has been a Massachusetts resident for at least one year; or
- the ground for divorce occurred in Massachusetts, and the spouses lived in the state as a couple.
- Draft a Separation Agreement.
The spouses have to resolve the key issues of their divorce (parental rights and liabilities, alimony, how to divide property and debts, and others) and draft a Separation Agreement. Then, both parties must sign it in the presence of a notary.
- Complete and file divorce paperwork
The spouses have to collect and fill out a Joint Petition for Divorce and other divorce papers. Then, the divorce forms must be filed with the Probate and Family Court. In Massachusetts, you can either do it in person or file an application for divorce online through eFileMA. Even though this e-filing provider doesn’t enable you to complete divorce online, filing for divorce over the internet still helps save time.
- Pay a filing fee
Regardless of how you decide to file your documents, a court filing fee ($200 in Massachusetts) is charged to begin legal action. Filing fees are mandatory in all cases unless the spouses are indigent and thus qualify for a fee waiver.
- Attend a final hearing
When getting a divorce in Massachusetts, both spouses are typically required to attend a single court hearing. An uncontested final hearing is brief and has nothing to do with the trial. During this hearing, the judge review’s the spouses’ Separation Agreements and asks some questions to make sure it is reasonable and covers all the critical issues. If so, the judge issues a final order.
Please note: Massachusetts has a mandatory waiting period between the date the judge grants a divorce and the date divorce can be considered final (“absolute”). This “Nisi period” lasts 120 days in a 1A divorce.
Once the Nisi period has expired, divorce is automatically final, and the ex-spouses are allowed to remarry.
Options to Speed Up a Divorce
While state laws govern what happens after the case is filed and the Nisi period cannot be avoided, the spouses can still choose the most advantageous and time-effective methods to prepare for the process.
When the spouses want to negotiate their Separation Agreement, they do not need to waste time trying to figure things out independently. They are also not obliged to hire a high-priced lawyer. Instead, they can use alternative dispute resolution, like divorce mediation.
Mediation is a voluntary and private process for discussing and resolving the issues in divorce. During these sessions, the spouses meet with a specially-trained mediator, a neutral third party, who helps them reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
If you want to save time and reduce the cost of divorce, you can arrange a DIY divorce without an attorney.
Do-it-yourself divorce, i.e., representing yourself in a divorce, can be a good option in simple uncontested cases where the main challenges are often limited to completing legal paperwork.
Of course, the importance of proper divorce paperwork shouldn’t be underestimated, as even a single mistake in court forms may cause case delays. However, you can get assistance with these issues at a much lower price than lawyers’ flat fees for uncontested divorces using an online divorce company.
Internet divorce companies provide inexpensive paperwork drafting services for those who don’t want to grapple with tricky court forms on their own.
Using one of the online divorce websites, you can get all the required divorce forms completed in only two days without even leaving home.
Typically, all a user needs to do is complete an online questionnaire on the website. Then, based on the provided case details, the online divorce service selects and helps fill out all the necessary divorce documents, following the laws and requirements of a particular state and county. Besides, many web divorce services provide step-by-step instructions on filing a case with the local court.
This option is an excellent alternative to a purely DIY divorce, as it allows you to avoid the most common mistakes in paperwork and save you the effort of dealing with red tape.
When divorce is inevitable, your best bet is to get it done as soon as possible. Fortunately, a divorce in Massachusetts doesn’t have to be a huge drama if the spouses are ready to negotiate and work together toward mutual agreements. By filing for an uncontested no-fault divorce, spouses can save money and speed up their divorce process.