1. Participate in a Parenting Education Class:
In the state of Massachusetts, it is required that both parties to the divorce participate in a parenting education program. The goal of this program is to teach divorcing parents how to effectively co-parent their children after the divorce is finalized. The class must be approved by the court and typically must be completed within 30 days of filing for a divorce.
2. File the Complaint and Summons:
The first step in obtaining a divorce is to file a complaint with the court. This document is legally required to state the grounds for the divorce and provides the necessary paperwork for the case to begin moving forward. The summons will then need to be served on your spouse, notifying them that they are being sued for divorce and must answer within 20 days or risk losing by default.
3. Serve Your Spouse with Divorce Papers:
After filing with the court, you are responsible as the plaintiff to ensure your spouse (the defendant) has been properly served with the papers. In Massachusetts, this can be done through a process server or sheriff's deputy. In some cases, you may be allowed to mail the paperwork, but only if your spouse signs an affidavit of service acknowledging they received it.
4. Enter Default or Answer:
If the defendant does not answer the complaint within 20 days, the plaintiff will enter a default in court for uncontested divorce proceedings. If the defendant does answer, then both parties must enter negotiations and submit proposed settlement agreements to the court for approval.
5. Exchange Financial Documents:
In Massachusetts, both parties are legally required to exchange financial records such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements and other documents that contain relevant financial information pertaining to any potential issues such as alimony and debt.
6. Negotiate Settlement Agreement Outside Courtroom:
In Massachusetts, divorcing parties have an obligation to attempt to reach an agreement on all issues before the case can be heard by a judge. This agreement should address items such as alimony, child support, property division and custody/visitation rights. It is important for both spouses to understand their rights under Massachusetts law prior to entering any negotiations.
7. Attend Mandatory Mediation Session Before Trial:
Before filing for trial in Massachusetts, both parties must attend at least one mediation session with a court-approved mediator. The goal of this session is for the two sides to come to an agreement without having to go through the trial process.
8. File Final Judgment with the Court:
After a settlement agreement is approved by the court, both parties must sign and submit the final judgment to the court for filing. This document will officially end the marriage and dictate all of the terms of their divorce such as property division and alimony payments if applicable.
9. Change Beneficiary Designations on Accounts:
Once a divorce is finalized, it is important for both spouses to update any beneficiary designations on any accounts that may have been impacted by their divorce decree. This includes life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other investments where one party may have had an interest before the divorce was completed. It's also important to update beneficiaries on wills, trusts, and other legal documents that may have been affected.