The below information does not constitute legal advice but is offered for informational purposes only. If you want to receive legal advice you should retain a lawyer.

Can I file for a divorce in Massachusetts?

You may file for a divorce in Massachusetts if you lived with your spouse in the Commonwealth. When the cause of the divorce did not arise in Massachusetts, and/or if you have never lived with your spouse in Massachusetts, you may file for a divorce in Massachusetts if you have resided here for at least one year prior to the filing of divorce.

What happens after a divorce complaint is filed?

After a complaint for divorce is filed, it must be served upon the other party. The other party, known as the defendant, who may be you if you are served with a Complaint for Divorce, has to file an Answer to the complaint. An Answer is a pleading that must be drafted so as to respond separately to each allegation in the Complaint. The Answer must be filed with the Court, with a copy served to counsel for the plaintiff, or to the plaintiff directly if the plaintiff is representing himself or herself. The defendant should also file a counterclaim with the Answer, if the defendant so chooses, as well as any affirmative defenses. You must be very careful in answering a Complaint for a Divorce if you contest jurisdiction as a defendant because you may inadvertently confer jurisdiction to the Court if you answer incorrectly. The best thing to do is to consult an attorney.

How long does a divorce take?

It depends on the type of divorce that is pursued. An uncontested divorce followed by a joint petition may be completed very quickly. A contested custody case, for example, may not be completed for more than a year. Also, depending upon the type of divorce filed, there may be a six month waiting period before a “dispositive hearing,” such as a pretrial conference, may be scheduled.

Is there any financial protection available when a divorce is filed?

Yes. When a plaintiff files a divorce, the plaintiff is subject to an automatic restraining order on assets. That same automatic restraining order on assets takes effect on the defendant when that party is served with the Complaint for Divorce. The automatic restraining order prohibits parties from transferring, selling, liquidating or otherwise disposing of assets other than in the ordinary course of business, or to pay reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with the divorce. If this restraining order is violated, the Court may impose sanctions against the offending party.

How is custody determined?

In deciding, the Court is guided by “in the best interests of the child.” The Court will look at all relevant circumstances (a discretionary standard) including, among other things, age of the children, day-to-day routine, and which parent has been primarily responsible for the daily care, and will enter a provision for care, custody and financial support of the child(ren) in the Judgment of Divorce, Judgment of Paternity or Judgment of Custody.

When custody is disputed, the Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”). The Court generally directs a GAL to investigate facts and allegations surrounding custody and will file his or her report with the Court, which will often contain custodial recommendations. The Court will consider the GAL’s findings in arriving at a decision as to custody.

Child related matters are always subject to modification and a different standard applies when a parent seeks to remove a child permanently from the Commonwealth over the objection of the other parent. In such circumstances the Court will apply the “significant advantage test.”

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