While the majority of divorce cases in Massachusetts are contested with regards to at least one issue (and likely more), it is possible for soon-to-be-ex-spouses to file what is known as an uncontested divorce in the Commonwealth. Surprisingly, uncontested divorces are sometimes more complicated to finalize than contested divorces; and this due, in large part, to the extensive paperwork that must be filed at the onset of the process.
However, despite the complexity, if both parties truly do agree on absolutely every issue regarding the divorce, than an uncontested divorce may be the way to proceed. As with all divorce matters, it is highly advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney before you file the requisite paperwork with the court; because once you file your paperwork and the court approves your divorce, it will be very difficult – if not impossible – to amend down the road.
As mentioned above, the court requires that both parties file several documents in one filing at the onset of the divorce. These forms and documents include the following:
- Divorce/Separation Agreement
- This document sets forth exactly how all issues are resolved between the parties. Some of the issues that absolutely must be addressed in this agreement include parenting schedules if any children are involved; the division of all of the parties’ assets and debts (including real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.); health insurance coverage for the children; and the plan regarding financial support.
- Financial statements of both parties
- These are documents signed under oath that set forth each party’s assets, debts, and expenses;
- Financial Statement Schedule A (if either party is self-employed)
- Financial Statement Schedule B (if either party owns rental property and obtains income from said property)
- MA child support guidelines
- This is a specific form that includes a formula calculating “guidelines” child support.
- Certified copy of marriage certificate
- Certificate of absolute divorce or annulment
- Affidavit disclosing care or custody proceedings
- Joint petition for divorce
Even though a divorce may be uncontested, a judge must still sign off on the proceedings. After the necessary documents are filed, a hearing is scheduled; and, in order to move towards the final stages, a judge must find legal grounds for the divorce. The grounds for an uncontested divorce are almost always due to the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage.
Once the judge makes this finding, he or she must determine that the Separation Agreement is “fair and reasonable.” In making this finding, the judge typically focuses on the language of the agreement and the financial statements of both parties. In addition to conducting a thorough review of the Separation Agreement, the judge asks questions of the parties regarding the proposed parenting arrangements, division of the marital property, etc. One of the judge’s primary goals is to ensure that both parties know and understand the terms to which they are agreeing. During the hearing for an uncontested divorce, the judge may not inquire about adulterous behavior.
Finalizing the Divorce
If the judge finds everything is in order, the court should mail to both parties a document known as the “Findings and Order.” It memorializes the court’s findings that the Separation Agreement is fair and reasonable. The judgment is entered in thirty days. Pursuant to Massachusetts law, the divorce is considered “absolute” 120 days from the date of the hearing. During this period, neither party can remarry.