By Colleen Cunnally & Stephen McDonough – Massachusetts divorce lawyers and mediators at The Divorce Collaborative LLC.
Prior to entering into a marriage ceremony in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, couples must apply for a marriage license at a town or city hall. The application takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. There is a mandatory three-day waiting period before the license is issued. That’s the easy part!
The Massachusetts divorce process is neither quick nor simple. Unless a couple is without assets or children, the divorce process is more involved than sometimes portrayed. Although someone might take years to decide to initiate a divorce, once things start many clients want their divorce over yesterday! We understand that, but it does take some time to “uncouple.”
When I first meet with a potential divorce client, one of the first questions typically asked is “How long will the divorce process take?” The answer depends in part on the type of divorce process the client selects, i.e., litigation, mediation or collaborative. If you want to read more about these options, please click here, then click on the Learning Center tab. As a general rule, mediation tends to be the fastest option.
If a divorce is contested (meaning a court-based divorce) and one spouse files for divorce pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, sec. 1B, citing the most common divorce ground of irretrievable breakdown, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period before a judge will grant a Judgment of Divorce. After the court enters a Judgment of Divorce, there is also a statutory Nisi period of ninety (90) days. This means the divorce will not be final until after the expiration of the nisi period, referred to as the “absolute divorce date.” The purpose of the nisi period allows parties to change their mind if they decide to reconcile. The concept of the nisi period is carried over from the English common law system.
OK, you might be wondering at this point what all this “nisi” stuff is. Nisi is a Latin word, meaning unless. If you want to learn more about this term, and who doesn’t really, please click here for a magical journey to Wikipedia.
If a divorce is uncontested and filed pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 208, sec. 1A, there is no six- month waiting period before the court will grant the divorce. However, the court will wait thirty days from the date the parties appear in court before entering a Judgment of Divorce. Thereafter, the 90-day Nisi period still applies which means the divorce will not be final for a total of 120 days. Couples that select the mediation or collaborative divorce process typically file for an uncontested divorce once all of the details are agreed to and set forth in their separation agreement.
Now, remember that the statutory waiting periods and Nisi period kick in at the end of the process. Before getting to that point there is much to be accomplished. If you are facing or even in the middle of a divorce, try to remember that although you may want to move quickly, that you will need to be patient and work through the ups and downs of the process with the guidance of your divorce attorney.
The Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts place all contested divorce cases on a fourteen (14) month track per Standing Order 1-06. Between the court’s schedule, motion dates, pre-trial conferences, the discovery process and settlement negotiations, it is not uncommon for a divorce to take a year to fourteen (14) months to process. If parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement quickly, or there are continuances, and/or the case is scheduled for trial, a divorce case may take much longer than fourteen (14) months. I recently (December 2012) had a divorce case scheduled for a trial in December of 2013!
As experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyers, we do our best to educate our clients about the divorce process and provide estimates on the length of time it may take to complete their case. There are many variables, including how the opposing party and their attorney approach the case.
At the end of the day, how long it takes you and your spouse to reach an agreement will control how long your divorce takes more than anything else.
If you are considering a Massachusetts divorce in Norfolk, Worcester, Middlesex, Plymouth, or Bristol County, we can help. Call (877) 842-1199 to schedule your informative consultation and get your questions answered.
The Divorce Collaborative LLC has offices in Franklin, Bedford, and Shrewsbury.
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