If you are considering divorce in Massachusetts, you know you are going to need legal help. The right attorney can help you walk away with the best outcome without going overboard on legal costs.
To find a divorce lawyer who meets your needs, it is a good idea to ask some questions from your prospective candidates. The answers you get can not only help you understand the divorce process, but also help you gauge the attorney’s attitude and responsiveness to your concerns. Accordingly, we offer some key questions to ask a Massachusetts divorce lawyer.
How will you help me resolve my divorce case?
This broad question could give you an idea of an attorney’s customary approach to divorce cases. Some attorneys see divorce as a battle where they need to fight for their clients’ interests at all costs. Other divorce lawyers prefer a collaborative method where they try to find compromises and keep everybody happy.
Ask the attorney why their approach would work best in your particular situation. While a collaborative divorce can be great with an ex who is willing to cooperate if you are divorcing a spouse who insists on having everything their own way, a more adversarial approach may be necessary to protect your interests.
Are there alternatives to divorce in my situation?
Clients often wonder if they are able to obtain a “legal separation” if they’re not ready for divorce. The state of Massachusetts does not recognize legal separation as a marital status. However, you can and should execute a separation agreement which sets out terms such as how property will be divided and custody arranged. If you file the separation agreement with the court, it is easier to enforce and it can be made part of a divorce judgment. Because the terms agreed to in a separation agreement are so important, both parties should work with their own attorney who can help protect their rights.
Although parties cannot legally separate, they can seek a “separate support” judgment. This judgment would not end the marriage but would address issues such as custody and alimony, allowing the couples to live as if they were divorced in many respects.
What are the grounds for divorce in Massachusetts? Do you need grounds for a “no-fault” divorce?
Massachusetts allows couples to divorce without proving that either one did something wrong. They can file for a “no-fault” divorce on the grounds that their marriage is “irretrievably broken” due to “irreconcilable differences” between them. These differences provide the “grounds” for the divorce.
If both parties can agree to all the critical terms before they file, they may request an uncontested divorce. However, if a couple cannot agree on how to resolve all the important issues, the case will be considered contested even if they are seeking a no-fault divorce.
The grounds for a fault-based divorce include:
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- Failure to provide suitable support
When one party alleges fault-based grounds for divorce, they must be prepared to prove the allegations, which adds to the complexity and cost of a divorce. If the attorney you are questioning recommends seeking a fault-based divorce, make sure they can explain the advantages you would gain through that process.
Can I file for divorce in Massachusetts even if my spouse lives in another state?
You are allowed to file for divorce in Massachusetts once you have lived in the state for a year or more. If you don’t meet the residency requirement, you can still divorce in the state if you and your spouse lived here during your marriage and the grounds for divorce occurred in Massachusetts.
How long will my divorce take in Massachusetts?
No attorney can positively guarantee a finalized divorce within a particular time because it is impossible to predict court delays. However, there are some ways to estimate the time needed to complete the divorce process. In an uncontested divorce, there is a built-in wait time of 90 days before a temporary judgment becomes final. There is also a wait time of 30 days before the temporary judgement is entered. Allowing for time to negotiate terms and schedule the hearing, an uncontested divorce may take seven to eight months.
Contested divorces can take much longer depending on how many issues need to be ironed out and how well parties comply with requests for information. The Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts set a time standard for contested divorce at 14 months, meaning that a judgment should be entered no more than 14 months after filing. However, whether due to the caseload of the court or complications in the case itself, the process may take considerably longer.
Work with an Experienced Massachusetts Divorce Lawyer
Divorce can be a nightmare, but when you work with an experienced legal advisor who understands what you are going through, you can minimize the trauma and emerge prepared to face the future with confidence. At Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, we are ready to protect your interests, assets, and relationships. Talk to us to learn how we can help.