No one goes into a marriage thinking it will one day end in separation and divorce. If you find yourself in this position, however, it will be critical to act quickly to protect your rights. Divorce is more than the termination of your marriage, and will affect your children, your property, and your money. Fortunately, most issues can be resolved to your advantage during the separation period from your spouse. It all starts with selecting dedicated legal counsel that will represent your best interests from day one. You can count on SederLaw’s Family Law & Probate practice.
What Is “Divorce” in Massachusetts?
Divorce is the legal process to end a marriage. A spouse can file for divorce in Massachusetts if he or she has lived in the state for one year, or if the reason for ending the marriage occurred in Massachusetts and the spouses have lived in the state as a couple.
Divorce can be either fault or no-fault, and either of these can be contested or uncontested. Contested means the spouses do not agree on the divorce or its terms, while uncontested means they do.
Fault Versus No-Fault
Massachusetts recognizes seven grounds for fault-based divorces. They are:
- Gross and confirmed habits of intoxication
- Cruel and abusive treatment
- A prison sentence of 5 or more years
“Fault” just means one person was considered to blame for the marriage ending.
Most people file for a no-fault divorce. “No fault” means that even though the marriage is broken beyond repair, neither spouse blames the other. A more formal term is Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage.
Two Kinds of No-Fault Divorce: 1A And 1B
Because no-fault divorces are the most common in Massachusetts, spouses should understand which of the two types is best for them. The difference is whether the divorce will be amicable and on agreeable terms (uncontested) or whether the spouses intend to challenge one another throughout the process (contested). These are referred to, respectively, as 1A and 1B divorces, based on the statute on which they are based.
This is an uncontested, no-fault divorce. It means the parties both agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Moreover, they have reached a written agreement concerning child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, division of marital assets, and more. This is a streamlined process with minimum court involvement and relatively little expense.
To file for this type of divorce, there should be at least one spouse who believes the marriage is irretrievably broken (or even both), but an inability to agree on terms concerning child support, parenting time, alimony, child custody, division marital assets, and other matters. If the parties are ultimately able to come to an agreement on these, they can change the divorce from 1B to 1A.
Issues to Decide During Your Divorce
As mentioned above, the reasons that spouses decide to end their marriage will impact which type of divorce will be filed. However, that’s only the beginning. Spouses will have to settle a number of important matters related to their divorce. Some of the most common ones are:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Parenting time and child visitation
- Asset division (e.g. bank accounts, stocks, and retirement accounts)
- Personal property division (e.g. automobiles and furniture)
- Real property division, including vacation homes
- Debt division
- Spousal support and alimony
If the other spouse is open to settling these and other issues, an attorney can work with you to negotiate on your behalf. The end goal will be a written separation agreement. Negotiations of this sort usually take place during the period of separation between the spouses.
Does Massachusetts Have Legal Separation?
There is no such thing as “legal separation” in Massachusetts. In other words, a husband or wife does not need the permission of a court to live apart from his or her spouse.
If you decide to separate, and there’s no hope of saving the marriage, then you can use this time to negotiate a written separation agreement with your spouse. This document will dictate how various matters related to the end of your marriage, such as those listed above, will be handled. The separation agreement should be handled with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney before you agree to be bound by it.
Once the separation agreement is finalized, it should be submitted to the court overseeing your divorce. Courts generally approve these documents, meaning spouses are free to agree to almost any terms they want. However, there are cases in which a judge will not approve a separation agreement. These include agreements that are not in the child’s best interests.
Will My Divorce Go to Court?
Uncontested divorces have only minimal court involvement. Even if a divorce starts out being contested, however, the parties can settle their differences outside of court and save time, money, and stress. If possible, your divorce attorney will use mediation and direct negotiations with the other spouse’s lawyer to accomplish this. Mediation is an out-of-court process involving a neutral third party who helps the spouses resolve their differences and work out a separation agreement.
Although our goal is to settle divorces to the benefit of our clients, we recognize that this is not always possible. Therefore, we are prepared to take your divorce to court if needed. That’s the level of service you can expect from our comprehensive family law practice.
Contact Our Worcester Divorce And Separation Attorney
Divorce is a time of uncertainty and significant life changes. Fortunately, you don’t have to walk this path alone. SederLaw is here to advocate for you and make your divorce as painless as possible. If you’re ready to get started, or you have questions, connect with our Family Law & Probate team today.