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Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Oct 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Contested uncontested divorce
Your divorce doesn’t have to be a fight.

If you get divorced in Massachusetts, there are different types of divorces that are available to you, with each following a different path as it goes through the courts. Some are quicker, simpler, and less expensive than others. It depends on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested and also on whether it is a fault or a no-fault divorce.

Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Divorce in Massachusetts

When you get divorced, there are many decisions about the future that have to be made before the divorce can be finalized. Either you and your spouse will agree with each other about these decisions, or a judge will have to decide for you.

A contested divorce is one where you and your spouse don't agree about all the terms of the divorce. For example, you might disagree about how to divide your marital property, what to do about child custody and parenting time, or how much alimony, if any, should be awarded.

An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is one where you and your spouse do agree on all the terms of the divorce. That agreement has to be 100 percent. If you disagree about even one of the terms, then the divorce becomes contested. Of course, it is not that common that divorcing couples completely agree on all of the details involved in uncoupling.  In order to get to the point where your divorce is uncontested, you may want to consider working with a qualified divorce mediator.

How Uncontested and Contested Divorces Proceed in the Courts

A no-fault divorce can be either contested or uncontested. Getting an uncontested no-fault divorce is significantly more streamlined than getting a contested no-fault divorce.

These are the steps for an uncontested no-fault divorce:

  1. You and your spouse file required paperwork with the court, or your attorney does this on your behalf. Remember that an attorney may not represent adverse parties, so even in uncontested divorce, a lawyer can only represent one side of the case.
  2. You go together to a hearing where the judge will ask you some basic questions, review the Separation Agreement, Court Financial Statements, and the other various court forms.
  3. If the judge accepts your separation agreement and finds that the terms are fair and reasonable, and is satisfied that the breakup of your marriage is irretrievable, then a judgment will automatically be entered in 30 days, and 90 days after that, you can remarry as you will be officially divorced.

In a contested no-fault divorce, you have to go through a more complicated litigation process that may end up in a trial. This takes longer and costs more than an uncontested no-fault divorce.

These are the steps you would follow for a contested no-fault divorce:

  • One spouse has to serve a complaint and summons on the other spouse.
  • The spouse who is served files an answer to the complaint with the court, and possibly a counterclaim for divorce.
  • You will likely engage in discovery (obtaining and providing information from and to the other side), submit a pre-trial memorandum to the court, and attend a pre-trial hearing. Oftentimes, various motions will be filed, requiring additional court appearances.
  • In most cases, divorcing spouses, working with a lawyer or meditator, are able to come to an agreement before their case goes to trial. If you do, then you can file the required paperwork with the court and go to a hearing with a judge. The hearing can't take place any earlier than six months after the divorce was initially filed.
  • If you and your spouse still aren't able to reach an agreement, then the divorce will go to trial, and the judge will decide on the contested terms of the divorce.

Fault Divorces

If either or both spouses are claiming that the other was at fault, then the divorce process becomes more complicated. Both contested and uncontested fault divorces must follow a process similar to the contested no-fault process described above.

Pros and Cons of Contested and Uncontested Divorces in Massachusetts

The advantage of an uncontested divorce is that it is faster, easier, less expensive, and less stressful.

However, if you are and your spouse cannot agree on the important decisions you have to make, then you will have to pursue a contested divorce. Here at Next Phase Legal, we take a positive, problem-solving approach to help our clients reach a fair settlement in contested divorces.

Choosing whether to get a contested or an uncontested divorce is an important decision. There is no one right answer for everybody. It depends on your individual circumstances and needs. If you would like help, please contact us at Next Phase Legal, and our skilled, experienced, and compassionate divorce lawyers would be glad to help you.

Some people who decide to get an uncontested divorce also choose to use our limited assistance representation services. This is a do-it-mostly-yourself option. It's not for everyone, but if you are comfortable handling some aspects of your divorce yourself, then limited assistance representation can save you money while still providing you with help from our experienced attorneys.

If you think you might be interested in this option, please contact us, and we will be glad to tell you more.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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