An uncontested Massachusetts divorce is essentially a simplified divorce process which allows spouses who agree on all of the issues in their divorce to expedite their divorce filings. Rather than moving through a complex contested divorce process involving numerous court hearings and filings, spouses agree on the issues involved in the divorce and file for divorce jointly (together).
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Massachusetts uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts Defined
Like many state, Massachusetts has recognized the value of allowing couples to seek a fast-tracked uncontested divorce. Unlike other states that recognize uncontested divorce, however, Massachusetts has two different uncontested divorce processes known as 1A uncontested divorces and 1B uncontested divorces.1 Both 1A and 1B divorce require couples to agree on a joint petition for divorce filing.
The key difference between 1A and 1B divorce is the timing and effort required. 1A uncontested divorce requires more documentation and paperwork upfront but allows for a faster divorce process. 1B uncontested divorce requires the spouses to wait six months after filing the divorce before a judge will hear the petition. Regardless of which approach you and your spouse decide to take, your divorce will be fast tracked through the Massachusetts court system and will be less expensive and easier than seeking a normal divorce.
Requirements for Seeking a Massachusetts Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Massachusetts, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first requirement for seeking either type of uncontested divorce is the Massachusetts divorce residency requirement. Prior to filing for divorce in Massachusetts, either spouse must have lived within Massachusetts for at least one year.
Next, the couple must agree on the grounds for the divorce, or the reason for being divorced. Several at-fault grounds for divorce exist; however, spouses seeking either a 1A or a 1B divorce will want to file using the Massachusetts no-fault ground.2 Under Massachusetts law, sufficient grounds exist to end a marriage if there was an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage,3 which means that the spouses are now incompatible and the marriage cannot be saved.
The final aspect of a Massachusetts uncontested divorce is an agreement between the spouses. Recall that spouses filing for either 1A or 1B divorce should file a joint petition for divorce. The filing spouses will have to agree on the contents of that petition.
On Spousal Support and Separation Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A separation agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed separation agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any separation agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
Agreement in Massachusetts 1A and 1B divorce cases is most commonly accomplished by creating a written separation agreement. The agreement must be fair and reasonable for the court to approve it.4 The written agreement should address each of the following issues in the divorce:
- Disposition of the marital estate,
- Support and maintenance,
- Child custody and visitation, and
- Child support (the spouses will need to file child support guidelines with the court along with their separation agreement).
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts
Once you and your spouse have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is as follows (this procedural overview assumes a 1A filing):
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- If you are filing for uncontested divorce without the assistance of an attorney, the first step is to prepare the divorce paperwork and create a marital separation agreement. Fortunately, several sample self-help divorce forms are available for free on the Massachusetts Court System’s website.5
- Next, you will need to determine where to file for divorce. You and your spouse should file in the Probate and Family Court in the County in which you meet the residency requirement. However, if at least one of the parties still resides in the county in which the couple last resided as man and wife, the divorce lawsuit must be filed in that county.
- File the joint petition for the divorce, a joint affidavit signed by both spouses claiming that the marriage is irretrievably broken, a separation agreement that is signed and notarized by both spouses specifying the terms of their final agreement, and a request for a hearing on the petition. You will also need to file: a copy of the marriage certificate, financial disclosures for both spouses, and a proposed certificate of divorce. If there are minor children, you will need to file an affidavit disclosing care and custody proceedings for each spouse, a certification of attendance at an approved parent education program, child support guidelines, and a public assistance affidavit.
- Attend your hearing. The judge will ask several straightforward questions. Once the judge is satisfied, he or she will approve the separation agreement and approve the divorce. Be aware, however, the judgment for divorce will not become final until 120 days after the judge makes his or her ruling.
For more information on divorce in Massachusetts, see mass.gov.6
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.