How do I get divorced in Massachusetts?

There are two types of divorce in Massachusetts, contested and uncontested. Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested does not depend on whether each party wants a divorce, rather it refers to whether they agree on the issues in the case. Which avenue you choose depends on the circumstances of your family and the specific issues in your case. Most importantly, it depends on whether you and your spouse can reach a full agreement on the issues in the case making all issues “uncontested.”


What are some common issues in a divorce?

Every divorce is different because every family is different. Some common issues in a divorce can be:

  • Legal and physical custody of children
  • Visitation
  • Child Support
  • Health insurance coverage and expenses
  • Alimony
  • Educational expenses for children
  • Extracurricular expenses for children
  • Childcare expenses
  • Marital asset division (marital home, personal property, retirement etc)
  • Tax implications
  • Division of marital debt


What is an Uncontested Divorce?

An uncontested divorce is the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to get divorced. So why doesn’t everyone do it? Because it requires that you and your spouse reach a full agreement on ALL the issues in your case before you go to court.  This is often very difficult when each party is unsure of their rights and unsure of what a fair agreement would be in their situation. Often one or both sposes have unrealistic expecations or demands which makes reaching a full agreement very difficult.


What can an attorney do for me in an Uncontested Divorce?

It is important to remember that a lawyer cannot represent both spouses in a divorce. If retained for your case, Attorney Ellis will counsel you on the particular issues in your case and your legal options. She will negotiate with your spouse or their attorney to reach a fair agreement on the issues. If an agreement can be reached, she will draft the necessary paperwork to get the uncontested divorce started. Your spouse only needs to review and sign the documents. Your spouse can have the agreement reviewed by an attorney or proceed self represented. Attorney Ellis will accompany you to court to have the agreement approved and the divorce finalized.


How long will an Uncontested Divorce take?

That depends on how quickly you and your spouse can come to an agreement and the Court’s schedule. Once an agreement is reached and paperwork is signed it can take a few weeks to get a court date.


What happens in Court on an Uncontested Divorce?

You will go to Court just one time for the Judge to review your agreement. Once approved, the law establishes a waiting period before the divorce is final. Once the period is over, you are divorced without having to return to Court.


What will an Uncontested Divorce cost me?

That depends heavily on the amount of attorney services required to reach an agreement. Attorney Ellis offers free phone consults where she will evaluate your particular case and what it will cost. She can often offer a flat rate for uncontested divorces.


What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is one where the parties cannot agree on the issues or one party wishes to start the process immediately. The case begins with one party filing a Complaint for Divorce in court and serving the other spouse with papers.


What is “No Fault” or “Irretrievable Breakdown” divorce?

Most divorces are filed as “No Fault” divorces. No fault means that no one is to blame legally; instead you are citing “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage as the grounds for the divorce. This is not to say that the parties conduct during the marriage won’t be considered but it is not the basis of the divorce.


What is “Fault Based” Divorce?

There are seven “fault” grounds in Massachusetts. With No Fault divorce available, they are seldom used as the basis for divorce. Some recognizable grounds are cruel and abusive treatment, desertion, adultery and impotency.  Attorney Ellis can advise you whether fault based grounds are right for your situation and the pros and cons of fault based versus no fault divorce.


What can an Attorney Ellis do for me in a Contested Divorce?

A contested divorce is often litigious and time consuming. Whether you are considering filing for divorce or you have been served with papers by your spouse, the divorce process can be overwhelming when you are trying to do it alone. Attorney Ellis will explain to you in depth what your legal options are and how they apply to your case. Attorney Ellis will help you make important decisions about the case and navigate the often confusing and frustrating legal process. She will assist you in obtaining the best result possible for your particular situation. Whether at a Motion Hearing on a particular issue or at a full Trial on all the issues, Attorney Ellis will attempt to negotiate an agreement that works for you and serves the best interests of your family. If an agreement cannot be reached she will zealously argue your position in front of the Judge so a decision can be made. She will be available to answer all of your questions and concerns. She will deal with the other party or the other party’s attorney throughout the court process so you don’t have to.


What will a contested divorce cost me?

Attorney Ellis offers free phone consultations where she will discuss your particular case and what it will cost. But generally Attorney Ellis will require a “retainer” to start the case. A retainer is a lump sum of money determined on a case by case basis. The retainer is held in a special client funds bank account. Funds are billed from the retainer for work that is completed on your case on a monthly basis. If the case is not completed before the retainer is exhausted, a second retainer is needed. Any money in the retainer that is not used at the completion of the case is returned to the client. The hourly rate and amount for the retainer will depend on the particular issues in the case but also depends on the number of contested issues, the complexity of issues, the contentiousness of the parties and other factors. During a free consultation, Attorney Ellis will assess your case and discuss the retainer needed to start work on the case.


What if I cannot afford a large retainer but I still need help?

In certain circumstances Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) is available. LAR is a new initiative in Probate in Family Court which allows a party to hire an attorney on a limited basis to help with a part or parts of an ongoing case. The attorney and party negotiate what part or parts of a case the party needs help with and what the cost will be. The attorney handles the part(s) the client wants them to and the client handles the rest. Often times a flat rate can be used for each part. The rate will depend on the particular issues in the case but also depends on the number of contested issues, the complexity of issues, the contentiousness of the parties and the attorney’s responsibilities. During a free phone consultation, Attorney Ellis will assess your case and discuss whether LAR would be available for you. For more information on LAR (click here)