Divorce is about so much more than money. It is about the emotional bond with your former partner and your children. It is about redefining the relationships in your life to serve your best self. Divorce is not about the wrongs of the past, it is about creating the best future.
Marriage in Massachusetts is a civil contract sanctioned and authorized by the Massachusetts legislature. Although religious officials are authorized to conduct the solemnization of marriage, the contract of marriage is a civil contract in Massachusetts. Divorce is authorized by the legislature in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208. Divorce is the dissolution of the marital enterprise or partnership and different sections of Chapter 208 provided for determinations to be made regarding children, assets, and the care and support of spouses (when appropriate).
Massachusetts provides for an equitable division of assets pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208, Section 34. This division is done by a judge of the Probate and Family Court after considering at least 18 different factors such as the length of the marriage, health of the parties, and contributions of the parties. Contributions as a homemaker are also considered as important as financial contributions. Where the parties share a certain lifestyle while married, the court looks to uphold the lifestyle of the parties and children after the divorce.
How does the divorce process start?
A divorce begins in one of two ways: a joint petition for divorce or by one spouse filing a complaint for divorce. When a joint petition is filed, the parties have already agreed upon all of the issues and have a settlement agreement. When a complaint for divorce is filed, the parties have not yet determined how to divide all of the property or agreed upon support and/or custody issues.
The joint petition requires that a formal separation agreement be filed with it, which contains all the terms of the divorce, including custody, support, and division of assets, as well as other important items. Parties may reach an agreement by different methods. They may participate in mediation (alternate dispute resolution). They may participate in a collaborative divorce process. Alternatively, a contested divorce may become uncontested at any point in the process and the parties may enter into a divorce agreement at any point in the process.
What is the timeline for a divorce?
It depends on many factors. If you and your spouse agree – just a few months. If you and your spouse are not able to agree – 14 months to 2 years is typical.
How much does a divorce cost?
It depends. We bill hourly for contested divorces, but can sometimes prepare joint petitions for divorce for a flat fee if the parties have already reached an agreement on all issues and no discovery or negotiation is necessary. In this instance, we only represent one party and the other party has an opportunity to consult their own counsel.
What is the next step after someone has filed?
The first step you should take is to hire an attorney. The sooner you hire an attorney, the better off you will be. If you need one, call us today. If you’re working with us – welcome aboard!
After a complaint for divorce is filed, the next step is the exchange of financial information (tax returns, bank, investment and retirement account statements). This information is usually, but not always, exchanged before the first court appearance on a motion for temporary orders. Because divorces don’t happen overnight, the parties will want to know what should happen with the children, the cars, the retirement account, and even the family pet while the divorce is pending.
Temporary Orders Hearing
Temporary orders are an important hearing. You will want to have your attorney assist you in preparing the court’s financial statement form, as this document is relied upon heavily by the court in determining support, as well as the value of your assets and liabilities. You will also want to discuss with your attorney your preferences for parenting time with each parent. Temporary orders typically address support and custody/parenting time issues. However, a motion for temporary orders can also address who will need to move out of the marital home (if you are still residing together when the Complaint for Divorce is filed), educational issues for the children, issues concerning extra-curricular activities for the children, the sale of the marital home, health insurance issues (coverage and who is responsible for uninsured medical expenses of the children and/or spouses), and any other issues that need to be addressed immediately and cannot wait for the overall resolution of the case.
At the temporary orders hearing, the parties can come to a partial or full stipulation of the issues and the judge can determine the rest of the issues. For example, if the parties are proposing alimony, child support, parenting time, and a motion to vacate (move out of) the marital home, the parties may agree on three of the issues, but bring the fourth issue to the judge. If the parties are unable to discuss the issues, all issues can be brought in front of the judge. It is important to remember that you, the client, are a large part of this process–your agreement or withholding of agreement is up to you.
Following the temporary orders hearing, the parties will continue to conduct “discovery”. Discovery is the opportunity to gather information and documentation relevant to the issues in the case. Discovery can include conducting appraisals of real estate, valuations of businesses or other valuable assets, as well as the opportunity to obtain written answers to questions about the issues in the case, known as “Interrogatories”, which must be answered by the other party under the pains and penalties of perjury. In addition to Interrogatories, other types of discovery include a Request for Production of Documents, as well as depositions. The Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure allow each party to request any documents in the possession of the other party. Documents may also be obtained by deposition subpoena duces tecum (to produce documents) to the lawyer’s office or to a court hearing.
Depositions of witnesses can also be taken of fact witnesses. All of these discovery options are not necessarily used in each case, as each case presents a unique set of facts and circumstances. Some cases do not require any further discovery after the self-disclosure documentations are exchanged; others (especially when custody is contested or a business needs to be valued) may require all of these discovery vehicles.
The parties must then appear at a Pre-Trial Conference to inform the judge of all unresolved issues and select dates for trial. A pre-trial conference is conducted in the courtroom. The parties and counsel are required to conduct a “four-way” meeting at least one week prior to the pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial, each attorney will submit a memorandum for the judge to read outlining the facts of the case, uncontested issues, contested issues, and their client’s position in regard to the contested issues. The judge will then provide input to the parties to attempt to assist them in reaching a settlement.
Separation Agreement or Trial
There are two ways to conclude a divorce – by signing a Separation Agreement or by having a Trial. The vast majority of cases resolve by Agreement, but we are prepared to take cases to trial when necessary.