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Massachusetts Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
In a joint petition (1A divorce), the couple agrees to a no-fault divorce. The petition states that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which means that both spouses agree that they cannot resolve their marital problems and that neither spouse is at fault for their problems. Both spouses are called the petitioners. Whoever is listed first is petitioner A and the other spouse is petitioner B; the outcome of the divorce, however, does not depend on whose name is first.
A 1B divorce is also a no-fault divorce. The spouse that fills out the 1B divorce complaint is the plaintiff; the other spouse is the defendant.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
Both 1A and 1B forms require a date when the marriage became irretrievably broken. This can be the date either spouse moved out or the date one spouse realized the marriage had failed.
If either or both spouses own real estate, information for all deeds are required as well. This information is shown on the original deed or at the county registry of deeds for the county where the real estate is located. All Massachusetts registries can be searched online for this information.
The following documents must be filed with the petition or complaint: a completed certification of vital statistics, and a certified copy of the marriage certificate. A copy of the marriage certificate can be obtained from the city or town clerk where the marriage happened, or from the Massachusetts secretary of state.
Serving the Documents
There is no service on a 1A divorce because both spouses sign the petition.
For a 1B divorce, when the plaintiff spouse files the divorce, the court clerk returns a copy of the complaint with a summons. When the plaintiff mails or brings the complaint to the court, he or she must include the fee for the summons, which is in addition to the filing fee for the complaint.
The plaintiff spouse then serves the complaint copy and the summons on the defendant spouse.
The plaintiff mails the summons to the court to show how the defendant was served. The plaintiff should keep copies of everything returned by mail, because it is not unusual to go to court and learn that divorce papers are missing.
Disclosing Financial Information
Each spouse must prepare a financial statement and exchange it with the other spouse. A party can use the short form if he or she earns less than $75,000. Otherwise, the long form must be completed.
The parties should have an up-to-date financial statement prepared whenever they have a hearing. Both spouses should exchange copies.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
A spouse who receives a complaint for divorce should file an appearance to show that he or she wants a voice in the case.
A party can also file a response, which is called an answer, if the complaint contains incorrect statements or he or she want to ask for a result different that what the plaintiff requested.
If the defendant wants to contest, he or she can file a counterclaim to list different reasons for the divorce. There is a separate filing fee for the counterclaim.
Finalizing the Divorce
Generally, the timeframe is as long as it takes for both parties to sign a separation agreement, plus two to six weeks to schedule a court date. The divorce becomes final either three or four months after the court date. If a case is contested and goes all the way to trial, however, a divorce can take as long as two years or more.
Courts in Massachusetts decide child custody based on what is in the child's best interests. While parents can come to their own custody agreements, courts are not bound to accept it.
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