THE MASSACHEUTTES DIVORCE PROCESS AND TIMELINE
Divorce is by far one of the most stressful events that can ever occur in someone’s life. At Wright Family Law Group, we understand the mental, emotional, and financial issues that accompany this kind of life transition and we are ready, willing and able to assist in any way possible. In addition to divorce representation, we also offer assistance with post-divorce proceedings. Including but not limited to Child Support Modifications, Alimony, and Vistation/Custody Issues.
1. It is always a good idea at the outset to start exploring the possibility of settlement with a mediator or some other neutral party. If the parties can agree on the terms of the divorce, a joint petition can be filed which can cut back on a lot of the expense and headaches associated with getting a divorce.
2. If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse cannot resolve the issues, the divorce will go into litigation. This means that a request for divorce (the complaint) is filed in a Massachusetts court by one of the spouses (the plaintiff). After filing, the papers are then served with a summons upon the other spouse (the defendant) by a sheriff, constable or other process server. In Massachusetts, the complaint can be filed in whichever county either of the parties live. When a party lives out of state, most states provide that they cannot file for a divorce there until they have established residency. This usually means they have to have lived there for at least a year.
3. The defendant must answer the complaint in writing within twenty days. Once the suit is filed, and an answer is received, the case enters the pretrial period, which may last several months. It is important to know, however, that the parties may agree upon mutual settlement at any time during this period, in which case the case does not go to trial.
4. During the pretrial or discovery period, each side prepares its arguments and collects all pertinent facts and documents. Each spouse also has the right to review the other spouse’s information. Discovery may include interrogatories (questions which the other side must answer in writing under oath), depositions (oral questioning outside the courtroom) and requests for documents such as financial records. You can expect to hear from your lawyer if she requires documentation from you, or if there is a scheduled court date. Parties to a divorce are required to attend all court hearings with their legal counsel so make sure you are able to clear your calendar when the time comes.
5. Motions: The attorneys may present requests (motions) to the judge, who may or may not grant them. For example, they may request postponement of a court date or ask for certain information to be provided by the other spouse.
6. If custody is an issue, the court, in its discretion, may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), in charge of determining the best outcome for the children. The GAL will conduct an investigation that includes interviewing the parents and often the children, and will then issue a recommendation regarding child custody and visitation.
7. Trial: the large majority of cases are settled out of court. If this is not achieved, a trial will take place before a judge (without a jury). Each party presents his or her case and evidence to support it, which may include testimony by witnesses. After hearing all evidence, the judge will study the case and issue a decision, usually several days later.
GETTING THE ADVANTAGE
1. File First. The spouse that files first controls much of how the agenda of the case is prescribed. The party that files the complaint is the one that can present evidence first and who has the opportunity to file for temporary orders. In doing so, the spouse that files first frequently has the first and last word before the court has a chance to rule.If you have been served with a complaint for divorce, it’s not the end of the world. Quality counsel can outweigh these factors. Sometimes, a divorce is filed, but opposing counsel hasn’t filed a motion for temporary orders. In such cases, it is possible for the defendant to get the “first bite at the apple” if it is in their best interests to do so. In addition, the responding party can have the final word, if the filing party elects not to ask the court for an opportunity for a rebuttal.
2. Watch all Joint Bank Accounts and Credit Cards. The last thing you want to have happen is to have your spouse clean out the accounts and rack up credit card debt when you turn your back or let your guard down. Chances are, if your getting divorced, you’ve already started to think about it months in advance so keep this issue in mind when you develop your strategy.
3. Do Not Contact Your Ex. It is recommended that you not contact your ex (especially if relations are poor) once the complaint or petition for divorce has been filed. If your ex should attempt to harass, humiliate, coerce or threaten you after the proceedings have begun, call your lawyer right away. She will likely be able to obtain a restraining order which can prohibit the other party from contacting you.
4. Monitor all Social Networking Sites. It is amazing what people put on Facebook and since 2008 it has become one of the biggest sources of evidence used in family court cases. It is important to be mindful of this and keep an eye on your ex’s facebook page. Any posts, comments or other announcements that are derogatory or indicative of wasteful, neglectful or irresponsible behavior may be very damaging to your ex. It is also important to keep an eye on your ex’s linked-in page. He or she may have changed jobs and not told you – which can affect alimony and child support.