What is the First Step When You Decide to Divorce in Massachusetts?

Man taking first step in a Massachusetts divorce.

The first step when deciding to divorce in Massachusetts is determining whether you are filing a contested or uncontested divorce, and whether the divorce will be fault or no-fault. In a contested divorce, the spouses have not come to full agreement on the terms, whereas in an uncontested divorce, both parties agree on all issues and terms. If filing a no-fault divorce, you can file under Section 1A or Section 1B, depending on whether an agreement has been reached before or after filing. For contested divorces, all cases are filed under Section 1B, with or without fault grounds​.

Introduction to Massachusetts Divorce Law

Understanding the Landscape

When a married couple arrives at the difficult decision to part ways, the legal path ahead can seem scary. Massachusetts divorce laws are designed to ensure that both parties are treated fairly, but it takes some navigation. The very first step in this journey is to get a clear picture of the type of divorce you are facing. Are you and your spouse citing irreconcilable differences, or is there a specific fault ground such as abusive treatment? This will determine the course of your divorce case.

The Basics of Residency

To file for divorce in Massachusetts, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state. If the reason for the divorce occurred outside of Massachusetts, the spouse filing must have lived in the state for at least one year. This residency requirement ensures that the Massachusetts family court has jurisdiction over your case.

Starting the Legal Process

Filing for Divorce

Your divorce proceedings begin when you file a divorce complaint in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. Whether you’re going through a no-fault divorce (referred to as a “1A” divorce if filing a joint petition, or “1B” if not) or a fault divorce, you will need to submit the proper divorce papers, including a certified copy of your marriage certificate, and pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the legal fees, an affidavit of indigency can be filed, potentially waiving these costs.

Financial Considerations

Preparing Your Financial Statement

One of the most critical aspects of a divorce case is the financial statement. This document details your financial situation, including:

  • income,
  • bank accounts,
  • real estate,
  • retirement accounts, and
  • debts like credit cards.

It’s a pivotal piece of information for:

  • property division,
  • child support payments, and
  • potential alimony.

Securing Your Financial Future

Understanding your assets and liabilities is key. You’ll need to collect:

  • bank statements,
  • tax returns, and
  • details of retirement plans.

If you and your spouse can agree on the division of assets, a written separation agreement can simplify the process. This is especially important if you’re considering an online divorce service to reduce attorney fees.

Dealing With Child Custody
and Support

Prioritizing the Best Interests of the Child

Child custody arrangements are determined based on the best interests of the child. Whether seeking joint physical custody or becoming the custodial parent, you must prepare to make a strong case for your child’s well-being. Massachusetts child support guidelines will help you understand the likely financial support required.

Creating a Stable Environment

For minor children, stability during this tumultuous time is paramount. Any agreement made should ensure that their life is disrupted as little as possible. This includes decisions on:

  • the marital home,
  • the children’s education, and
  • their health insurance coverage.

The Role of Temporary Orders

Immediate Needs and Protection

While divorce proceedings can take time, temporary orders can provide immediate relief regarding:

  • child custody,
  • child support, and
  • financial support.

These court orders ensure stability until a final judgment is reached.

Preparing for the Waiting Period

In Massachusetts, there is a waiting period known as the ‘Nisi Period’ before the divorce becomes final. Temporary orders are crucial during this time, as they govern the major issues until the final hearing.

The Importance of Mediation and
Settlement Agreements

Exploring Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation is a process that allows you and your spouse to work out an agreement with the help of a neutral third party. It can be a less adversarial and more cost-effective option compared to traditional divorce proceedings.

Reaching a Mutual Agreement

The goal is to arrive at a settlement agreement that both parties can agree upon. This agreement covers:

  • property division,
  • child custody, and
  • other major decisions.

If you can settle without going to trial, you will save time, money, and emotional energy.

Preparing for the Possibility
of Trial

Understanding the Discovery Process

If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, the next step is the discovery process. This is when both parties exchange important financial information and details about other relevant issues. It’s a critical phase that requires attention to detail and accuracy.

Setting a Trial Date

Should your case go to trial, a trial date will be set. A pre-trial conference often precedes the trial, allowing both parties a chance to discuss the major issues before the court.

After the Court Order:
Next Steps

The Judgment of Divorce Nisi

After your court hearing, if the divorce is granted, you will receive a judgment of divorce nisi. This is not the final judgment; it becomes absolute after the waiting period, which is  90 days for a contested divorce and 120 days for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts.

Post-Divorce: Moving Forward

Adjusting to Life After Divorce

Once the legal process is complete, the next step is to adjust to your new life. This might involve:

  • updating your will,
  • changing beneficiaries on insurance policies, and
  • ensuring that all court orders are being followed.

Continued Legal Support

Just because the divorce is final doesn’t mean you won’t need legal advice.

  • Postnuptial agreements,
  • changes in child support payments, or
  • other adjustments may require the assistance of a family law attorney.

Affordable Legal Help

An affordable divorce is possible. At Afford Law, our fees are based on your income, so the less you earn, the less you pay. Our mission is to provide experienced legal help you can afford.

If you can’t afford our lower rates for a traditional attorney-client relationship, you have another option. Our legal coaching service can save you money and still give you access to a skilled attorney. In this arrangement, you represent yourself in court while we work with you behind the scenes to prepare you every step of the way. This service is available to you for one low monthly fee.

Legal Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and receive tailored guidance.

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