Can I file for divorce in Massachusetts?
In order to file for divorce in Massachusetts, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- Have lived in Massachusetts for at least one year.
- Have lived in Massachusetts for less than one year, but the cause of action (i.e. the breakdown of the marriage) occurred in Massachusetts.
What is an “uncontested divorce”?
In any situation where the parties are able to agree to all the terms of the divorce, and are able to file a fully executed Separation Agreement covering all the terms of the divorce, the court will grant an uncontested divorce pursuant to MGL c. 208 §1A. In these situations, neither party needs to be served with divorce papers, as all paperwork is jointly filed. Generally, an uncontested divorce can take place reasonably quickly.
What is a “contested divorce”?
All other divorce cases are considered to be “contested,” where at least one aspect of the divorce needs to be decided by the judge. Contested divorce does not mean that one party does not want a divorce; it simply means that the couple cannot agree (at the time of filing) to all the terms of the divorce.
Does that mean that contested divorce cases always go to trial?
Not at all. In fact, the vast majority of cases settle well before trial. There are many opportunities to discuss and work on settlement after a case is filed. The filing of a contested divorce only means that at least one issue remained unresolved at the time of filing.
What are the issues that need to be settled in a divorce?
There are a variety of issues that must be resolved in every divorce. These include: how property is to be divided, how debts are to be divided, whether there will be alimony now or in the future, whether either party will need to cover health insurance for the other, and other issues. In situations where the couple has children, issues of child custody, support, and health insurance for the children need to be resolved. Often, many or all of these issues involve complex and highly emotional decisions by both parties.
Is mediation a good way to handle a divorce?
Mediation can be extremely helpful for many people considering divorce, but only when both parties know their legal rights. When you hire a lawyer, that lawyer has only your interest in mind. A mediator does not have either party’s interest in mind, and only works to see if the parties can reach a compromise. I frequently see the same power dynamics that were at work in a marriage take place in mediation as well. For example, if one party emotionally dominates the other in the marriage, that same domination will often take place in mediation as well. I highly recommend mediation, but only while working with a lawyer to understand the consequences and benefits of any agreement.
When is a trial necessary?
Divorce trials would be very rare if two reasonable people, with two competent and reasonable attorneys, are able to sit down and reach compromises that are the best possible outcome in a less-than-ideal situation. Unfortunately, not all people going through a divorce (and not all divorce attorneys) are reasonable. Sometimes the emotional issues surrounding the divorce get in the way of common sense. Sometimes one spouse wants to “punish” the other through the divorce process. In rare circumstances, there are complex factual or legal issues that simply have to be decided by the judge. In any of these cases, going to trial with a competent divorce attorney at your side is the best option available.
Do I have to have an attorney to get divorced?
Absolutely not. Many people go through uncontested and contested divorces without the advice of an attorney. However, keep in mind that few decisions are going to impact your life the way a divorce will. A separation agreement is a binding agreement that can help or hinder your future in nearly every aspect of your life.
What if I can’t afford the several-thousand-dollar retainer many attorneys ask for?
That’s where I can help. I offer a wide range of advice and representation on divorce cases. These can include helping by just reviewing some paperwork, advising on your rights before a mediation, or providing a “second opinion” before a major decision needs to be made. If you feel uncomfortable going to court, I can represent you for a single hearing. I offer these services on an affordable, flat-fee basis.
Many clients prefer to have an attorney throughout the entire case, but simply cannot afford to make a large up-front retainer payment. In these situations, I am happy to break the case down into several individual events and charge only for that service. This allows my clients to spread the cost of the divorce out over time. It also means that you don’t have to be afraid to pick up the phone or send me an e-mail, because you won’t be getting a bill for that service.