If you are reading this page, maybe you have your uncontested divorce hearing coming up following your divorce mediation, or perhaps you have a hearing scheduled at one of the Probate and Family Courts in Massachusetts? This page is meant to provide information on the different probate and family courts in Massachusetts. Sometimes information changes, so we will certainly try and keep the information here up to date. To be safe, we encourage you to confirm any specific information with the court’s website.
About the Massachusetts Court System
The Massachusetts court system consists of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, the Executive Office of the Trial Court, the seven Trial Court departments, the Massachusetts Probation Service, and the Office of Jury Commissioner. The Massachusetts court system has a robust website that contains helpful information, including information for citizens without attorneys, information for lawyers, court forms, rules, directions and telephone numbers to the specific courthouses, and much more. You can access the main court website by clicking here.
In Massachusetts, there are several different types of courts. There are seven different court types under the jurisdiction of the Trial Court Department. The Probate and Family Courts handle divorce proceedings, which is more than likely what you’re interested in. The Chief Justice of the Trail Court is the Honorable Paula M. Carey, a former Probate and Family Court Judge from Norfolk County. You can click here to visit the Trial Court Department website.
From the Trial Court website, you can easily link out to the other court departments based upon your needs.
What You Need To Know Before Calling The Courthouse
Our Massachusetts courts service thousands and thousands of people, many of whom do not have the benefit of having their own lawyer because they are unable to afford one and otherwise do not qualify for a court appointed lawyer, which are usually only available when someone faces incarceration.
Before you call one of the courts with a question, take a few minutes if possible and see if you can find the information you need on one of the court websites. Some of the specific pages even have instructions for litigants to fill out necessary court forms, and filing fees are also available online.
Of course, if you cannot ask a lawyer or mediator and need to call the court, then you may want to consider that the mornings tend to be hectic. My advice is to let the morning rush pass, and call sometime after 10:30 a.m. When call volume is high or when court staff are busy helping people at court, then you may be able to leave a message, but other times you will just have to try again.
If you leave a message, speak clearly, so your phone number and name is clear. Also, remember that court staff cannot provide you with specific legal advice, but may assist with general inquiries and procedural matters.
What It’s Like To Go To Court?
If you’re headed to court for the first time, it may be a little different than what you’ve seen on the television. In advance of your hearing make sure you know how to get to the courthouse, and if possible which courtroom you are scheduled to be in. If you are not sure, thereis a list posted each day at the court with the information. It is not a bad idea to check this anyway, just in case there have been any changes. Leave your cell phone, nail clippers, etc. in the car ahead of time to avoid having to go back to drop them off. Additionally, leave early to account for traffic and parking time.
When your case is called, you will move to the front of the courtroom. There will usually be a Court Officer to show you where to go. The majority of family law court appearances are slightly less formal hearings, with the parties and or their lawyers providing information to the court. In hearings like this, there is not the direct questioning and cross examination that many people expect. Just like there is no crying in baseball, there are no juries in divorce and family law cases.
If you are unfortunately involved in a trial, your lawyer will review how things are expected to go from a procedural standpoint. The judge will then inquire as to any “preliminary matters.” There’s always something lawyers want to be able to tell or ask the judge before the trial begins, and the court is interested to know what facts the opposing parties are willing to agree (stipulate) to in advance in an effort to streamline things.
After preliminary matters have been discussed the case can begin. Each side may make an opening statement. The party that filed for divorce will begin by calling witnesses to testify. Those witness may then be cross-examined. The opening party may also call upon an expert witness to testify.
The other party will follow the opening party, calling upon witnesses one by one for testimony and cross-examination. When that’s finished the first party may call rebuttal witnesses. Objections will be made with rulings left to the judge. Documents will be introduced and either admitted into or excluded from evidence.
After the last document and the last word of the testimony are submitted, each side will then take turns presenting a closing argument. The length of the trial will depend on the complexity and number of issues to be decided by a court. Ideally, the trial will only last one day, but it could take significantly longer. Cases typically run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day with an hour recession for lunch. Of course, schedules vary quite a bit depending on what is going on and the Judge’s schedule. Unfortunately, if your case requires additional days of trial, it is common that weeks if not months may pass before you get another trial date scheduled. This is not always the case however.
The judge may give a ruling orally at the end of the hearing, but the matter may also be taken “under advisement.” If the judge does not give a ruling immediately then an order or a judgment will be sent to both parties. For trials, the judge’s decision will be sent by mail, and it can take weeks or longer sometimes to get the decision.
Probate & Family Courts By County
35 Shawmut Rd
Canton, MA 02021
Barnstable County Probate & Family Court
3195 Main Street
Barnstable, MA 02630