There is no specific Massachusetts form for your separation agreement, but several probate courts have made available templates that a committed person could use for a do-it-yourself divorce or pro se divorce. You can download a Massachusetts separation agreement form, or template, for divorce with no children here, created by Worcester County probate court, or a Massachusetts separation agreement with minor children form, or template, here.
Divorce can be a difficult and stressful process, even in amicable situations. Navigating the maze of legal issues is confusing for many separating couples. To make matters more complicated, there few hard-and-fast rules and rarely any black-or-white answers. Instead, the outcome of important matters such as property division, alimony and child custody hinges on the unique circumstances of your family.
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. The wife may not resume using her former name. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will need to go through the court process to get divorced. Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In other cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.

In cases where you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on major issues, the judge will schedule a bench or jury trial that will require you and your spouse to present arguments supporting your respective positions. In the vast majority of trials, it is the attorneys with trial experience that do most of the arguing and presenting of evidence.  In addition to the legal fees paid to the attorneys, there are usually many court costs involved in a trial and pre-trial proceedings.
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.
In 2005, the average mediated case cost $3000 and was settled in 90 days. In turn, the average litigated case in the courts cost $15,000 and took 18 months to settle. Keep in mind, the litigated cases led to more spite and frustration between the divorcing couples, usually leading to a lose/lose situation for both. Not many people walk away from a litigated divorce feeling satisfied. On the other hand, couples who went through mediation felt satisfied with the agreements they had reached and both walked away feeling that they had gotten what they had wanted. Who would you rather have decide what happens with your children and assets after a divorce, you during mediation or attorneys and judges during a divorce in the courts? Who knows more about you, attorneys, judges or you? Why have people who know nothing about you tell you how you are going to live the rest of your life.

Minnesota law allows a parent, legal, guardian, teacher, or other caretaker of a child or student to use "reasonable force" to "restrain or correct the child." [1] That said, in the context of a pending divorce or child custody case, it is inadvisable to use any kind of corporal punishment at all. Many of the guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, psychologists, and others involved in the family court system have strong feelings against the use of any kind of corporal punishment or physical correction of a child at all; and a parent's use of corporal punishment might become a reason why one of these professionals makes custody, parenting time, or other recommendations that are contrary to your wishes. Also, the use of any physical force at all can be exaggerated by the other parent, who may do so in order to gain an advantage in a custody and parenting time contest, even to the point of bringing a petition for an order for protection against you on behalf of the child. It is far safer, therefore, to use alternative disciplinary techniques, such as time-outs, verbal reprimands, withholding of privileges, etc.

Some find it helpful to make a list of marital events, in the order they occurred, as well as a list of the current disputes and another list of the outcomes you would like to see. Whether you put it on paper or not, have a list in your head of which issues are most important to you and which are the least important. Being prepared and on time is key to the success of the divorce mediation. You must also be prepared to talk to your spouse. If you have had trouble communicating in the past, your mediator will be there to facilitate communication. While it is important that you set goals regarding what it will take to resolve the case or the individual disputes, it is equally important you remain flexible. You may be surprised at some of the things you find out during mediation which change your perception of the entire issue.
Divorce in Minnesota is called dissolution of marriage. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody, visitation, and support will need to be resolved.
Another important tool for a parent whose child has been taken or hidden is the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS).  An attorney must ask the court or county attorney to request FPLS assistance.  The court or county attorney can apply to the FPLS for assistance in locating the missing parent.  The FPLS is a computer search using the Social Security number of the missing parent to find home and work addresses for that parent.  You must have the correct Social Security number in order to use the FPLS.
The petition itself typically follows a simple format, which is not designed to argue your case in detail, but rather only provides "notice" to the other side of the very basic facts ultimately necessary for the court to decide the case. The petition will list the two party's names, addresses and ages. It will identify the names and ages of the party's children, if any, together with a general allegation of what “custody” or "parenting time” arrangement the petitioner believes to be in the best interest of the children. In Minnesota, over the years the family law bar has come up with innumerable labels and terms for "child custody”/”parenting time". It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the parties "real property" (land and building) ownership, including the homestead, and any vacation or investment real property the parties have. It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the party's other assets and liabilities.
Then there are the parties who fall into the trap of thinking the best way to divide up assets and liabilities is by splitting each item down the middle. That can lead to thousands of dollars in additional fees that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had waited for an expert mediator skilled in the finances of divorce to offer alternative more efficient options.
If your ex-spouse is ordered to pay a debt but doesn't pay it, the creditor may force you to pay it if you originally signed for the credit.  This can happen no matter what the divorce decree says.  If that happens, you can ask the court to order your ex-spouse to pay you back.  The court can also find your ex-spouse in contempt of court for violating the court's order.
The court will order a reasonable amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent.  Minnesota law has guidelines that say how much support should be paid.  The court can also order either parent to pay medical insurance premiums or expenses and to pay part of child care costs. The court considers the parent's income or ability to earn income and the number of children supported. 

This can be a very complex situation. A spouse can hide a lot of income through a business, which can greatly affect what you may be entitled to in the divorce. Further, it may not be for the best interest of both spouses if a profitable business is split up. There are many issues and pitfalls that arise when a business is involved in a divorce. You should consult with an attorney who understands both the divorce and the business issues.

Even under the best of circumstances, going through a divorce is one of life’s most difficult challenges – both emotionally and financially. Although using mediation may alleviate some of the most extreme negative impacts; divorce in Minnesota is never easy. I believe, the divorce process you choose (for example, mediation vs. litigation) is the most significant factor in determining the degree of suffering you are likely to endure…the more adversarial the process, the more difficult the challenge.


Some mediators prefer to conduct the framing stage in separate sessions, as they believe it better prepares each of you for the next stage: negotiating. Other mediators favor joint sessions because they believe that hearing your spouse work with the mediator to formulate interests lays a better foundation for the give and take of the negotiation stage. Either way can work, although separate sessions make the mediation cost a little more and take a little longer, because anything important that is said in the separate session will have to be repeated to the other spouse.
Most Minnesota judges encourage couples go through divorce mediation where you are making the decisions about your future rather than having a judge make them for you. Avoiding litigation is much more economical for both members of a divorcing couple, yet many people don’t realize the importance and power of divorce mediation in today’s climate. If you’re ready to take the next step towards a divorce, it’s critical that you enlist the help of a reputable mediator like Jeff Johnson who specializes in divorce mediation to walk you through the process of divorce.
If the court determines that there is probable cause that one of the parties, or a child of a party, has been physically or sexually abused by the other party, the court shall not require or refer the parties to mediation or any other process that requires parties to meet and confer without counsel, if any, present. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.619)
A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes.  It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney.  Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services.  You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file.  Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.

To sum up, these misconceptions about divorce mediation really highlight some of the many advantages of mediating your divorce. Because the format is highly adaptable and collaborative, the parties will be supported and assisted in working cooperatively to resolve their issues. Through the process, they will make agreements that they choose to live by and will be best prepared to go forward in a productive and positive manner. Best of all, they will have avoided the expense and stress of a long, protracted court battle. In the end, almost every divorce case is suitable for mediation despite these common misconceptions.

Very few divorce cases actually go to trial.  Most cases are settled before the trial begins.  Usually the attorneys and the judge have a short meeting before the trial starts.  The purpose of this meeting is to decide what must be addressed during the trial and what has already been settled by the parties. The attorneys also make agreements so that the trial will be easier, faster, and less formal.  For example, they might agree on the order in which witnesses will testify.
The summons is a simple legal notice that a divorce action has been commenced by the petitioner and advising how long the respondent has to serve an "answer" to the petition. It also contains a preliminary restraining order, preventing changes in insurance coverage and the disposition of property, except for the necessities of life or in the ordinary course of business. In Minnesota, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension the answer must be served within thirty days. If you ignore the service of a summons and petition for a longer period of time, the petitioner may serve a motion with the court requesting that default judgment be entered. This judgment will not only immediately dissolve the marriage terminating certain rights you have as a married person to rights such as health insurance. It may also result in the moving party being awarded rights and interests in property, as well as the loss by the respondent to certain rights, such as spousal maintenance (alimony) without the respondent having the opportunity to respond and defend their rights. While there are cases in which the court will subsequently set aside a default judgment, it is very important that you retain a lawyer to respond to a summons and petition within thirty days. Sometimes that response may be as simply as an agreement from the petitioner's attorney to extend the thirty day period to answer the petition.
Minneapolis family law attorney Geri Napuck delievers personalized representation to the Twin Cities. She practices exclusively in the area of family law and has extensive experience representing clients in divorces, child custody issues, parenting issues, property division, spousal maintenance, post-divorce matters, paternity and most recently has added pet mediations to her list of mediation services.

“ A thousand kudos to you and your professional staff and excellent service. Without your help I would have spent thousands of dollars for no good reason. The documents were prepared without flaw, and my divorce was granted on the terms that were agreed upon without any problems whatsoever. The time frame from initial filing to final decree was less than a month. ”


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.

After the mediator has gone over the basics, you'll get a chance to make a short statement about your situation, as will your spouse. After you've each had a chance to speak, the mediator is likely to ask some questions to clarify or get more information. The mediator may also reflect back what you've said, to be sure that both the mediator and your spouse have understood all of your points. The same will go for your spouse.


The traditional divorce process can be extremely expensive and can create an adversarial climate that can require lengthy litigation, which is often unnecessary. With divorce mediation, our goal is to create an environment that is more collaborative by working together toward solutions to ensure divorcing couples end up with an arrangement that works for them, their kids if applicable, and their budgets.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.

Even if you don’t qualify for the summary dissolution, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested dissolution, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the procedure by preparing and filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested dissolution, one of these documents you would be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.   
Here you will find an overview of Minnesota divorce laws. From the time the Petitioner (or Co-Petitioner) files the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, until the time the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is signed by the Judge of the County Court or District Court, Minnesota has certain procedures that need to be followed. These procedures are all in accordance with Minnesota laws, encompassing maintenance, child custody and visitation, child support, and equitable distribution.
Your agreement can include all parts of a divorce or focus on only financial or child-based issues. Again, this is up to you. The mediation process is confidential. Aside from agreements reached in writing, everything said in mediation is confidential. Like a psychologist’s office, your mediator cannot be called as a witness to anything said in mediation. This confidentiality lets couples discuss matters more freely than before a judge and lets them move past and resolve issues.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.  
Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
A mediator is a neutral professional specially trained to help you and your spouse reach agreement about all the important legal issues relating to your divorce. A mediator is not a decision maker. As your mediator, I guide you through the divorce process. I answer your questions and help you understand the court system. I facilitate a productive discussion of the issues while maintaining a safe and respectful environment. I assist you in understanding each other’s needs, wants and concerns. I help you generate and consider creative options. If you have minor children, I help you create a comprehensive Parenting Plan which will increase your likelihood of parenting success after your divorce is final. And finally, I document your agreements in a Memorandum of Agreement.

James W. McGill holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and is an honors graduate of Drake University Law School. Licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota and the Federal Courts, McGill maintains a general practice with special emphasis in the areas of Mediation, Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resoluti ... more
The vast majority of divorcing spouses - 97% according to some research - resolve all issues without going to trial. More and more individuals are resolving their issues on their own. Attorneys have recognized this, and many seek to support divorcing spouses in this do-it-yourself process. For example, some divorcing spouses will meet with attorneys separately for a consultation, and then attend mediation on their own. This way, each spouse can be well-informed about their options, but still maintain control (and keep the costs down) as they move forward to resolve any outstanding issues.
The court decides both legal and physical custody.  Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions about the children.  These include the children's religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care.  Physical custody means where the children live and which parent makes the routine daily decisions.  Physical custody is what most people think of when speaking about custody.
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