The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Your Divorce in Massachusetts
Ending any relationship can be a chaotic and even traumatic experience. Adding the legal aspect of a separation can make the process feel downright overwhelming. Whether you’re familiar with the Massachusetts Family Court and Probate System or are considering your first steps towards divorce, our team of experienced attorneys is ready to help you navigate these murky waters. You’ve probably got a million questions- and that’s okay. You’ve taken the most important steps by being proactive and doing your own research. This blog post is here as a guide (although it’s not legal advice!) to help you understand the divorce process in Massachusetts. We’ll unpack ten of the most frequently asked questions throughout the divorce process to give you the confidence that you need to tackle the divorce process alongside your trusted attorney. Let’s jump right in…
Do I need to have fault?
Massachusetts is a no-fault divorce state which means that nobody has to be determined legally “at fault” for the separation. This is a good thing because it lessens the burden of proof to complete the divorce process. Fault divorces require one or more parties to prove who is at fault for the end of the marriage. When you go for a No-Fault Divorce, the grounds for ending the relationship legally are simply outlined as an “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage.”
Read: No Fault Vs Fault Divorce- What’s the Difference? https://www.familylawma.com/blog/2022/april/do-i-file-a-fault-or-no-fault-divorce-/
My ex cheated/lied/was abusive- should I file for a Fault Divorce?
Long story short… probably not. Like we mentioned above, fault divorces are often lengthier, more expensive, and harder to deal with in general simply because they add another layer to the already complicated world of divorce. Amidst the heated conversations surrounding who gets that mahogany table, the last thing that you want is another thing that you need to prove to the judge. The divorce process isn’t generally made to punish or “make right” the wrongs of your soon-to-be-ex. Divorces are just that- the legal end of a marriage. A Fault Divorce doesn’t automatically promise additional alimony or child support to the “wronged” party and ultimately it will just make your divorce take longer (which means racking up those legal fees really quick). So, when someone comes in asking to get a Fault Divorce because they were cheated on or otherwise wronged, they’re really just asking for more work without any real benefit. Having been in relationships ourselves, we totally understand the desire to make others see what your ex has done but in the long run you’re better off leaving them as quickly (dare we even say, amicably?) as possible to create the life that you deserve. If you’re having trouble creating your path forward or moving on from the toxic environment that your ex may have created, you might find peace and aid with a divorce coach like Stacey Beal. Stacey can help you through the divorce process by providing co-parent communication tools, pre-court preparation techniques, in-court support and other methods to make the process run as smoothly as possible. At O’Connor Family Law, we believe strongly that being proactive is the best way to create change in your life. That’s why we have Stacey work with clients both inside and beyond the firm to help them navigate the emotional toll of getting a divorce.
How long will it take?
Ah, the age-old “are we there yet” of family law. Of course, you want your divorce process to run as smoothly as possible and be finished quickly so that you can move on with your life. We would love to tell you that your divorce will take 6 months and no longer but unfortunately, it’s difficult to put an exact timeline on it. In the most general terms, an uncontested divorce often resolves in 12-16 months but this is far from a hard and fast rule. The truth is, there are many factors that can affect how long your divorce takes and in general, the more that you and your soon-to-be-ex disagree on, the longer it will take and the more legal fees you will end up with. That's why we try to hammer out all of the issues before thinking about trial. In general, trial should be a last resort when you just cannot come to an agreement and should only be something that you engage in when you've weighed the cost of going to trial with your reasons for wanting to go. Going to trial over a coffee table probably isn't worth it but the house might be another story. Of course, you'll want to talk to get legal representation and talk to a lawyer in your area to get a clearer picture of what options are available to you. Getting divorced in Massachusetts? Give us a call at 774-315-4220 to book a strategy session with one of our experienced family law attorneys.
What happens when I file?
Once you have successfully filed for divorce, you will get a court date for either a motion hearing or a case management conference. If you are scheduled for a motion hearing, it will most likely come in the form of a Motion for Temporary Orders. Your attorney will advise you on best next steps and give you a better idea of what you should do to prepare for these steps. From there, you will work with your attorney to determine what your case needs next. We generally recommend trying to settle as many issues as possible outside of court (through moderated mediation sessions or other safe communication vessels). Make sure that you know what court dates you have scheduled and prioritize showing up. Being present at any court dates is essential to getting the best possible outcome for your case.
Read- how to file for divorce https://www.familylawma.com/blog/2022/january/how-to-file-for-divorce-in-massachusetts/
Who gets the house?
While the easiest method for allocating items and property is always a settlement made between the two parties (and each of their respective attorneys/mediators), this is not always possible. If the parties cannot come to an agreement on their own, decisions will be left to the courts to decide. There are many factors that can affect a judge’s decision when determining who gets the house but in general, they will consider whether one party is financially capable of buying out their share of the house. Leaving this decision to the court may not be preferable because it removes the opportunity for you and your lawyer to negotiate and come to an agreement that both parties are content with. High equity items can often become sticking points in mediation meetings but if you can get this issue hammered out between the parties, you may score significant savings when it comes to legal fees and days in court.
What happens to our kids?
Custody is decided based on the best interests of the child or children involved. While a court might consider the child’s preferences for living situations based on the age and maturity of the child, there are many factors that can affect who will get custody over children. It is also important to note that while a child's preference may be taken into consideration, this will not be the main component of any final decision. Judges consider all aspects of the home situation and may consider many different aspects of the living situation before making a determination on where the child should stay.. Some other factors for consideration could include a child's academic performance as indicator of ability to thrive in the home environment, the child's relationship with either parent or other family members as relevant, status quo of who has generally cared for the child in the past, any history of drug use, abandonment, domestic violence perpetration, or other criminal activities committed by either parent, and more.
I love posting on Facebook… but will the court look at my posts/texts/emails/communications? What about medical records?
When in doubt, withhold the clout. Too cheesy? Well, it’s true! Assume that anything you put out can come back around on you. Especially if you post something it a public setting, anything can and (if they have a good lawyer) will be used against you in court. If you wouldn’t say it in front of a judge who’s deciding your future (and your kids’ futures, too!), then keep it on lock. You never know what might come to the evidence pile so be careful when hitting the reply button in the heat of the moment. We know, it’s hard to keep your cool, but it’s so very important. Still not convinced negative posts and other communications could hurt you in the courtroom? Learn How Social Media Harms Cases here. As far as private documents like medical records go, your soon-to-be-ex’s lawyer can request the release of any relevant materials. Of course, a request doesn’t mean that it will be approved but if the judge deems such data to be relevant to the court’s proceedings, they may be released as evidence.
I know some states pretty much cut everything down the middle and say take half… will that happen in Massachusetts?
That’s what we call a community property state. In a community property state, everything gets divided equally between a divorcing couple. Massachusetts is not a community property state so this won’t be the general process you run into if you’re getting divorced in the Bay State. Instead, judges focus on determining a division of property that is deemed fair and equitable. There are a lot of factors that can influence this judgment including length of marriage, when certain items were acquired, the financial ability of one party to “buy out” the other party and more. To get a better idea of what living in a non-community property state like Massachusetts could mean for your divorce, read more here.
Can I stay on my ex’s insurance?
We’ve got a whole blog post on this if you’re looking for details but the short of it is… potentially. In Massachusetts, you may be eligible to stay on your ex’s insurance plan if the plan allows it. You will need to check the terms of their insurance and if there is an additional cost (compared to having just your ex or your ex + kids on the plan), you may be obligated to pay the difference. Your ex spouse’s marital status (i.e. if they choose to remarry), as well as your eligibility for other insurance plans including Medicare may also influence whether you are still able to remain on the plan. You’ll want to discuss with your ex and their insurance company to determine the best option moving forward.
Will I get child support? What about alimony?
As with most things family law, this will depend on several key factors. Child support may be paid to the custodial parent (the parent that the child lives with) according to Massachusetts Child Support guidelines. For child support, the court will consider how much either parent makes or can be expected to make on a weekly basis, how many children are in the home, and other key factors. If a parent is unemployed or simply refuses to work, this may change how the child support is determined but does not generally negate child support. Alimony will be considered based on factors relating to the partners themselves (not any children from the partnership). This means that the judge may look at how long you were married, either partner’s health, income, employability, and more, when considering whether to award alimony.
How much will it cost?
Ah yes, if only we could wave our wands and make the final number appear but unfortunately it doesn’t really work like that. The price of your divorce will vary widely based on a number of issues. It all really comes to down to the idea that time is money- the longer your divorce takes, the more you’re going to wrack up in legal fees. A typical divorce might end up with a $5,000 bill but you can add or subtract thousands depending on how quickly your case settles or what other factors are involved. Sometimes divorces drag on for years or suddenly be done in the blink of an eye. It’s hard to know exactly what issues will become sticking points before getting into negotiations but if you’re trying to avoid a costly divorce, the best advice that we can give you is find a way to settle. Going to trial is an instant blow to the bank account so you’ll need to speak with a divorce attorney to determine the best way to proceed with your case. If you’re thinking about or beginning the divorce process in Massachusetts, give us a call at 774-315-4220 to get started today.
You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers
Of course, these are only a few of the most common questions to pop up throughout the divorce process. If you’re going through a divorce in Massachusetts, you’ll want a trusted team of attorneys and a divorce coach like Stacey Beal to help you through it. If you or a loved one is going through a divorce in Massachusetts, call O’Connor Family Law at 774-315-4220 to get started. Nobody deserves to go through this alone and we’re ready to provide the support that you need.