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What is the process for seeking divorce in Massachusetts?

The proceedings for a divorce depend on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. While Massachusetts enforces no-fault legislation, a fault case is treated like a contested case. In uncontested divorce proceedings, a separation agreement must be filed with the spouses' joint divorce petition, Form R-408, a certified marriage certificate copy and a joint affidavit of irretrievable breakdown. Couples with children might have to take a class for parent education and obtain a certificate of completion, which is filed with their financial statements prior to a hearing. If the court determines that the marriage is irreparable, it approves or modifies the separation settlement. A judgment nisi is automatically entered in 30 days and becomes final 90 days after the entry date. This means that divorced spouses cannot remarry for at least 120 days.

In a contested divorce, only one spouse files a complaint and has to arrange for the other spouse to be served with a copy, a summons and a notice. The other spouse files an answer with any counterclaims. Next, the parties exchange financial documents. If a pretrial hearing is scheduled for contested issues, the spouses or their lawyers request certain documents to be exchanged and present a pre-trial memorandum.

The spouses may avoid a trial in a contested divorce by filing financial statements, an applicable parent education certificate, and a notarized and signed separation agreement with the court. Then, a hearing is held at least six months later, unless the waiting period is waived. A trial is held when the couple cannot agree on every issue. After the court makes a decision, the order becomes final after 90 days.

While some divorces are simple, others may involve a large amount of assets and one or more children. These and other factors make every divorce different, so divorcing spouses should retain their own attorneys to represent their rights and best interests, as well as help them ensure that all the necessary documents are filed.

Source: Mass.gov, "Divorce", December 30, 2014

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