When getting divorced in Massachusetts it is important to understand that there are several different processes, governed by different laws, for divorcing. The first distinction is between “fault divorce” and “no fault divorce”. Up until the 1970’s, “fault divorce” was the only process for getting divorced in MA. In order to get divorced, one had to prove that the other partner was at fault, e.g. through adultery, substance abuse, marital violence, etc. in order to divorce. Since 1976, Massachusetts has allowed “no fault divorce”, which means that neither partner has to blame the other or prove the fault of the other in order to divorce. The couple simply have to assert an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage.
Today, “fault divorce” is rare, as it is much more expensive and takes much longer than “no fault divorce”.
There are two distinctions in “no fault divorce” processes in Massachusetts: 1) “contested divorce”, in which a judge is asked to rule on a divorce (or specific dimensions of it, such as custody issues, alimony, division of marital assets, or child support), and 2) “uncontested divorce”, in which a couple work together–sometimes with lawyers, sometimes on their own, and sometimes with a mediator–to come up with the terms of their divorce. Over 90% of divorce in Massachusetts end up “uncontested”, i.e., the couple present the terms of their divorce to a judge who signs off on the separation agreement. Contested divorces are sometimes called “1B divorces” and uncontested divorce “1A divorces” after the names of the court forms in MA for the two different kinds of divorces.
There are several different ways of arriving at a separation agreement (the name for a divorce agreement in MA). Some couples hire opposing attorneys who make motions in court or threaten to go to court before eventually working out an agreement that is presented to a judge. This tends to cost $10,000 or more for each spouse and to take at least 1-2 years. Many couples fill out the forms on their own. This is the least expensive way to do it, but it is very easy to make mistakes in the forms, which results in delays, and couples who are divorcing are often experiencing emotions that make it difficult to work together on such a process without the intervention of a third party. Divorce mediation in Massachusetts is often the most practical way to get divorce. A mediator typically charges $2000-$4000 (a cost shared by the couple). A family lawyer mediator is an expert in divorce law, so he or she can guide you through the process and explain the relevant laws. A sensitive mediator can help manage a couple’s emotions and keep them focused on the future, rather than past hurts. This is especially important if a couple have children, whom they need to continue to co-parent. By working together in mediation, the couple prepare themselves for future, cooperative co-parenting.