Divorce is a painful process. It’s full of psychological, financial, and emotional issues. Even an amicable divorce is difficult. There’s a lot to know about filing for divorce. There are many documents that must be filled out and submitted to the Court. You have to gather information and records. If you have children from the marriage, more is required. In an effort to help you understand the process, we discuss how to get an uncontested no-fault divorce in Massachusetts.
Fault or No-Fault
There are two types of divorce in Massachusetts, no-fault divorce, and divorces based on one spouse’s actions. An at-fault divorce is when one spouse claims that the other spouse did something to cause the marriage to end. Hence, that spouse is at fault for causing the divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
There are seven grounds upon which an at-fault divorce can be sought:
- continued desertion for at least one year prior to the filing of the divorce complaint;
- habitual intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of liquor or drugs;
- cruel and abusive treatment;
- gross, wanton, or cruel refusal or neglect to provide suitable support and maintenance for the other spouse (assuming the ability to provide that support exists); and,
- a spouse’s sentence of imprisonment for five or more years.
For the purposes of this discussion, we don’t need to address these grounds. We are going to look at the other type of divorce, the no-fault divorce.
A no-fault divorce is where instead of claiming one person is at fault, you are merely saying that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. You’ve simply grown apart and don’t want to be married any longer. In this case, you don’t need to prove that your spouse did anything wrong. You don’t have to prove anything except that the marriage has broken down and there is no repairing it, which is not difficult.
Two types of no-fault divorce.
There are two types of no-fault divorce, contested and uncontested. Uncontested divorces in Massachusetts are referred to as 1A divorces. Contested divorces are called 1B divorces. An uncontested divorce is where both parties agree on all the issues such as:
- Child custody;
- Child support;
- Alimony; and,
- Division of property and debts.
A 1B divorce is necessary where there is disagreement on any issue.
Can I get divorced in Massachusetts?
Before filing, you must first determine if you can get a divorce in Massachusetts. In order to file for a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts, the following must be true:
- You’ve lived in the state for 1 year,
- The reason the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage happened in Massachusetts and you lived in the state as a couple.
Now let’s take a look at the documents you need to file.
- Joint Petition for Divorce,
- Report of Absolute Divorce or Annulment,
- Affidavit of Irretrievable Breakdown,
- Separation Agreement,
- Military Affidavit (in some cases),
- Financial Statement,
- Certified copy of your Marriage Certificate
If you have children together:
- Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceedings,
- Certificate of Attendance of Parent Education Program,
- Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
The Joint Petition for Divorce
The Joint Petition for Divorce is used because you and your spouse are agreeing to all the terms of the divorce. Among other things, you provide information such as your:
- names of children of the marriage, and,
- whether someone wants to resume using their maiden name.
In it, you’re telling the Court that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. You and your spouse, or your attorneys, need to sign it. You’re also asking the Court to approve the Separation Agreement, a document we’ll discuss in a moment. You must choose whether to have the terms of the Separation Agreement “merge” or “survive” the final Judgment.
Choosing whether to merge or incorporate terms in a Separation Agreement is tricky. If the terms are merged it means that they become part of the Judgment of Divorce. The Agreement has no independent legal significance. It can be modified by the Probate Court if you can show a material change in circumstances.
If the terms of your divorce are merged but not incorporated, it is said to “survive” the final Judgment. That means it stands as a separate contract. It can be enforced in either the Superior Court or the Probate Court. In order to modify it, more than a material change in circumstances must be shown. You must show that there are “countervailing equities” involved. For example, you must show that if the Agreement is not changed, you will have to rely on state assistance to live.
Report of Absolute Divorce or Annulment
This report is a form to be filled out for the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. It’s pretty straightforward. You have to provide your name; date of birth; address; and so forth for you and your spouse. You give information as to when and where you were married; what is the cause of the divorce and names and dates of birth of your children. You fill out your portion. The Probate Clerk fills out other information once the divorce is final and sends it in to the Registry. It is only for the purpose of keeping vital statistic records.
Affidavit of Irretrievable Breakdown
This is a form where you have to explain when the irretrievable breakdown occurred. In this document both you and your spouse are swearing to the Court that the marriage has broken down and can’t be saved. Some ways you can show such breakdown are:
- You and your spouse have lived apart for some time;
- You tried counseling but were unsuccessful;
- Show that you’ve tried to reconcile in the past.
The Court generally doesn’t ask for too much detail. Basically, you’re saying that the two of you have grown apart and you can’t live together as a couple.
The Separation Agreement is the most detailed of the documents you need to file for a divorce. There isn’t a form to be filled out. It’s something you must write on your own. Among other things it covers issues in the divorce such as:
- Child custody and parenting time;
- Child support;
- Division of assets and debts; and,
This is really the heart of the divorce. It must address all the issues and you and your spouse must agree on the terms. This will take you the most time to complete because it is so involved. Both parties must sign it.
A Military Affidavit tells the Court if anyone involved in the divorce is in the military. You must state that:
- No party to this divorce is in the military;
- One party is in the military and agrees to the divorce terms; or
- One party is in the military and does not agree to the divorce terms.
There are two Financial Statements:
- Short Form for people who earn less than $75,000 per year; and,
- Long Form for people who earn more than $75,000 per year.
Both parties must complete the form.
The forms are an in-depth look at your financial situation. It is broken down into four main categories. The first category is income information, such as:
- Gross weekly income;
- Itemized deductions; and
- Other deductions such as contributions to retirement accounts.
Subtracting the deductions from the gross income will give you a net weekly income.
Next you must list your weekly expenses, such as:
- Utility costs;
- Insurance; and,
Assets that you own must be shown, including:
- Real estate;
- IRAs or other investment accounts; and,
- Bank accounts.
Finally, you must disclose information on your liabilities, including:
- Creditor’s name;
- Nature of debt;
- Date the liability occurred;
- Amount due; and,
- Weekly payments.
Certified copy of your Marriage Certificate
Lastly, you must provide a certified copy of your Marriage Certificate. You can get one from the Registry of Vital Records.
If You Have Children
In addition to the documents we have discussed, there are three more requirements if you have children from the marriage.
Parent Education Program Certificate
If you’re getting divorced and have children, you’re required to attend a Parent Education Program, unless it is waived by the Court. You must register for the course within 30 days of filing your original paperwork. This is an in-person program, but you can ask the Court if you can watch a DVD or participate on-line. You must give a reason why you can’t attend in person such as:
- History of violence between the parties;
- One party is incarcerated;
- Language barriers; or
- Where justice otherwise indicates.
Affidavit Disclosing Care and Custody Proceeding
This is a form that needs to be filled out in a divorce with children. It identifies the names and dates of birth of the children you have from the marriage. More importantly, it tells the Court about any other legal proceedings involving the children. It will let the judge know if there are any court orders involving your children already in place. It also alerts the judge if there are any open matters in other courts.
Child Support Guidelines Worksheet
Child support must be decided by the judge. In order to do so, you must provide financial information about you and your spouse. There are a number of factors that are used to determine the proper amount of support. Chief among them are:
- Parents’ incomes;
- Parents’ contribution to health insurance for children;
- Child care costs; and
- Support paid for other children.
Where to file
In which court do you need to file divorce papers? If your spouse still lives in the county where you last lived together, you have to file for divorce in the Probate and Family Court in that county. If your spouse has moved out of that county, then you can file in the county where you live or in the county where your spouse lives now.
Getting divorced is never easy. It’s full of emotion and financial entaglements. If there are children involved, it’s even harder. Getting a divorce without a lawyer is possible, but you should educate yourself on the divorce proceedings and be prepared. The decisions you make will have a significant impact on the lives of everyone involved. You’ll need to fill out uncontested divorce forms. In order for you to get an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse need to agree on all the issues involved.