By Attorney Jeanne Kangas –
No one enters a marriage with the idea that it is going to end in divorce. However, for many couples a divorce is the only solution for an unhappy situation. If you’re considering filing for divorce in Massachusetts, make sure you understand the two types of dissolutions available to you.
Uncontested Massachusetts Divorce
In an uncontested divorce (sometimes referred to as 1A) you and your spouse file a joint petition for divorce along with a separation agreement. The separation agreement, usually drafted with the assistance of an attorney, reviews the equitable division of property, assets, debt, health insurance and life insurance, businesses, and inheritances, and clarifies issues surrounding child custody and support. If there are minor children involved, each parent must attend a Court certified parenting class.
The Court will require other documents as well: A current Financial Statement, the marriage certificate, and an Affidavit of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage signed by each party, stating that the marriage is over, with a few brief explanations.
Once the paperwork is complete, both parties can appear before a judge. At this meeting, the judge will ask questions concerning the documents. As long as the judge finds no problems, the judge will order the divorce. If there are problems, the judge will point them out and give the parties time to resolve them and return to court, usually that same day.
If you are considering an uncontested divorce, you may want to consider the use of mediation, to help you negotiate towards a complete separation agreement. The Massachusetts Council of Family Mediators (www.mcfm.org) has a referral list available online for the public. Attorney Jeanne Kangas is the past President of MCFM.
Contested Massachusetts Divorce
A contested divorce (sometimes called 1B) is more complex. It begins when one spouse (the plaintiff) files a Complaint for Divorce. The second spouse (the defendant) must answer the complaint. At this point, the divorce enters a pre-trial or discovery phase.
During this period, both sides must exchange financial and other required information and attempt to resolve their issues, such as child custody and spousal support (alimony). If complete agreement cannot be reached, each side presents their respective proposed resolution in a Pre-Trial Memorandum, which each submits to the court.
At the actual Pre-Trial, the judge hears both sides, and almost always asks questions and offers comments that can help the parties move closer toward agreement—or even reach complete agreement. If the parties need more time to work out complete agreement, the judge often orders the Pre-Trial to be continued to a later date.
If at the Pre-Trial or continued Pre-Trial the parties still cannot reach agreement, a trial will be ordered. At that time, and at great expense to the parties, each side offers witnesses, exhibits, and other evidence. After the trial each side submits their respective proposed Findings and proposed Judgment. In due course, as long as 6 months or more after the trial, the judge would enter his/her own Findings and Judgment of Divorce.
While you’re not required to have an attorney, a contested divorce is like any other case heard in court. It can be difficult to understand and follow all the rules. Whatever road your divorce takes, it’s important to have the proper support system. That includes a good lawyer who understands divorce laws in Massachusetts.