The flowchart below gives an overview of different processes for completing a divorce in Massachusetts. In 95% of divorce cases in Massachusetts, the final terms of the divorce are agreed upon in a separation agreement that is written up outside of court and presented to a judge who approves it in a 20-minute hearing. There are very different routes, however, for reaching this separation agreement and brief hearing. In many cases, there are court actions–litigation or “contested divorce” processes–before a couple agree on the terms of the divorce in a separation agreement.
Civil lawsuits- those involving land, inheritance, or services provided, are most often moved to the end of any Court’s calendar. Often, a civil matter will not be heard before a judge for more than two years after the case is filed with the Court. This long delay for justice/resolution, together with the high costs of trial, often make litigation impractical. It is not uncommon for attorney fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, court reporter fees and other related costs to exceed the amount in dispute.
Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...
If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order.  All of these methods are complicated.  You should try to find an attorney to help you.  You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county.  This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit.  Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.

If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order.  All of these methods are complicated.  You should try to find an attorney to help you.  You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county.  This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit.  Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.
Very few things in any family law issue are black-and-white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
I’ve heard of cases in which one spouse is so eager for custody of the children that they will relieve the other spouse of any duty to pay child support—which is not in their or the children’s best interests. Green says, “This is explicitly contrary to New York legislative policy—the kids shouldn’t be bargained for the money. The two things are determined separately by the court, so there’s no reason to take less than you’re entitled to under the formula.”
Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.

There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce.  However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services.  If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce. 
3) Contact the New York State Unified Court System's Collaborative Family Law Center. The Center offers free divorce mediation to qualifying couples living in New York City. If you and your spouse are eligible, you may get up to four, 90-minute sessions with program mediators (or six sessions, if you have children). Both spouses must agree to participate. Note: Referrals to divorce mediation will not be made in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse or where one spouse cannot locate the other.
All marriages prohibited by law shall be absolutely void, without any decree of dissolution or other legal proceedings, with the following exception. When a person who's husband or wife has been absent for four successive years, without being known to the person to be living during that time, marries during the lifetime of the absent husband or wife, the marriage shall be void only from the time that its nullity is adjudged. If the absentee is declared dead, the subsequent marriage shall not be void.

For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them.  This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value.  If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation.  Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same.  Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans.  A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child.  A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.

While most parties find mediation to be an excellent alternative to the traditional litigation approach to divorce, it may not work for everyone. It is not as effective when one party is unable to express opinions fully and without fear, or when the parties refuse to compromise or mediate in good faith. Additionally, some legal commentators are concerned that mediators may be unable to handle the complex financial arrangements involved in some divorce agreements.
But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
In reality, every divorce requires both formal legal procedures as well as some kind of settlement negotiations. In Minnesota, even if you prefer to litigate and leave every decision up to the judge, the rules require that before the Court will decide your case, parties must attempt resolution through some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, of which mediation is still the most common. [1]
You are not obligated to hire an attorney in order to file for divorce; however, having one greatly improves the likelihood your rights will be protected and that your divorce is done correctly. Otherwise, you may end up spending much more on hiring an attorney after your divorce to seek post-decree modifications to clean up anything done improperly at the outset. Having a lawyer with you during this process also lessens the pressure on you during this difficult time. Further, hiring a lawyer is especially beneficial if there are allegations of abuse — spousal, child, sexual or substance abuse — because in those situations, it may be impossible for the abused spouse to negotiate effectively. A lawyer can help arrange the necessary protection for an abused spouse and the children. There are many other instances where a lawyer will be significantly helpful in a divorce, such as: asserting a non-marital claim, complex finances, divorces involving business ownership, divorces involving one spouse living in a different state, and many more instances.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
In Minnesota, alimony or spousal maintenance is available as temporary, short-term or long-term. Temporary alimony includes payments made during the course of the divorce proceedings, while short-term involves a limited period following the divorce.  Long-term spousal maintenance is essentially permanent. In most cases, alimony is short-term and allows the dependent spouse to obtain skills to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
Courts do not usually deny requests to dissolve a marriage, even if that request is only coming from one spouse. Nevertheless, if your spouse wants a divorce but you don’t, you can argue that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken” at the evidentiary hearing. The district judge will make the determination; however, most divorce attorneys will tell you not to be optimistic about your chances of stopping the divorce by making this argument, assuming one spouse still wants the divorce.
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.
The small hourly cost for the attorney’s time is well worth the expense as it helps the client to make decisions and thereby move the mediation forward. In addition, at the point in the process when the parties have finalized all their agreements and a draft Separation Agreement is prepared, it is advisable that both parties review that agreement with their own attorney before they sign it. After all, this document will have lasting impact on their finances, their children, and their lives for some time to come, and it is prudent and wise to be sure that they both fully understand the terms in the agreement and that it accurately reflect their wishes.
All that being said, be aware that contesting the divorce will add to the duration and expense of the case. Contesting the divorce itself can buy you some time during which to pursue reconciliation, and can be the leverage to obtain your spouse’s agreement to therapy or other reconciliation efforts, but at the end of the day, a persistent party will be able to obtain the divorce.
Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
When you have a choice, it is cheaper to cooperate with informal and limited discovery. In cases where the other party is not cooperative or not trustworthy, more formal discovery may be a necessity. Some of the formal discovery demands you receive will be objectionable. In most cases, however, it is much cheaper for you to just get the information and documents, than to pay your lawyer to argue with the other side about it. Also, don’t trickle it in piecemeal to your attorney if at all possible. Get it all together into one package, as complete and as organized as possible.
A spouse is not liable to (responsible for paying) creditors for debts of the other spouse except for necessary medical expenses and household articles and supplies used by the family while the spouses live together.  A spouse is liable for credit card and other charges by the other spouse if both had agreed to be responsible to the creditor.  A spouse may also be liable for credit card debt if that spouse has used the card in the past.  Either spouse may close a joint credit card account at any time.  In some cases, it may be wise to cancel credit cards immediately.
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