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Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in Massachusetts

How do I get a copy of my divorce decree?
Under what circumstances may I get an annulment?
Can I change lawyers in the middle of my divorce?
Does an uncontested divorce require a court hearing?
Does Massachusetts recognize drug addiction as grounds for divorce?
Can I get a divorce without a lawyer in Massachusetts?
After one signs divorce papers before a judge in Massachusetts is there a waiting period or are you divorced immediately?


How do I get a copy of my divorce decree?

You can get a copy of your divorce decree by mail. The fee is $20.00 for a certified copy plus one dollar per page for every page except the first. You need to contact the Probate and Family Court where your divorce was filed. You can find the address by selecting the proper town in the Courthouse Locator, and then selecting the Probate and Family Court. In your letter, include the names of the people, the approximate date of the divorce, and if you have it, the docket number. Include your full address and phone number in case they have questions.

Under what circumstances may I get an annulment?

See Who Can Get an Annulment for information on grounds for annulment.

Can I change lawyers in the middle of my divorce?

(2/27/02) In a book called The Massachusetts Woman's Divorce Handbook, Isabella Jancourtz talks about "Changing Lawyers" on page 14:

"If you become aware that your lawyer is not doing anything on your case or you are dissatisfied for any other reason, you may consider getting a new lawyer. Before you do make a change, it is a good idea to see another lawyer for a second opinion. The delays you are encountering, for example, may not be your lawyer's fault. Some probate courts are tremendously backlogged.

Changing lawyers in the middle of a case should be done only when absolutely necessary. The disadvantages are (1) additional legal fees, (2) additional delay during the transition period, and (3) your new lawyer's lack of first hand knowledge about prior negotiation and/or litigation.

Depending on the fee agreement you originally made with your lawyer, you may be entitled to a refund of part of the retainer. Your former lawyer must return all correspondence and documents to you or your new lawyer upon request, regardless of any outstanding legal fees."

Does an uncontested divorce require a court hearing?

Yes, there is a court hearing involved in an uncontested divorce, but it need not be complicated. See The Divorce Process for more information.

Does Massachusetts recognize drug addiction as grounds for divorce?

Yes, see MGL c. 208 § 1.Here is some helpful explanation from Kindregan and Inker, FAMILY LAW AND PRACTICE (vol. 2 of the Mass Practice Series) at section 33.4, pages 275-276: "Massachusetts recognizes the gross and confirmed habits of intoxication caused by voluntary and excessive use of intoxicating liquor or narcotics as grounds for divorce. ... The mere use of liquor or drugs by a married person is not of itself grounds for divorce. ... The statute requires that the use which leads to the habits of intoxication must be voluntary and excessive. The voluntary requirement has not presented any problem of statutory interpretation, but the question of what constitutes excessive use may be problematic in some instances. Even if the misuse of liquor and drugs is intermittent, as long as it is habitual and repeated on a fairly regular basis, the divorce can be allowed."

Can I get a divorce without a lawyer in Massachusetts?

While it is usually best to enlist the aid of an attorney when seeking a divorce, especially when there are children and assets involved or you have trouble communicating with your spouse, it is still possible to obtain a divorce without an attorney.

There are different types of divorce -- (1) "uncontested fault," (2) "uncontested no-fault," (3) "contested fault," and (4) "contested no-fault" -- and you will need to determine which is applicable to your situation in order to proceed. See the Trial Court's self-help information on Divorce for more information. You also might want to check Law About Divorce for useful links to information and forms.

The Massachusetts Bar Association also runs a free service called "Dial-A-Lawyer". On the first Wednesday of every month, attorneys who are members of the MBA answer questions, from the general public from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The phones tend to be extremely busy during that two hour time period so please keep trying to get through. To use Dial-A-Lawyer call (617) 338-0610.

After one signs divorce papers before a judge in Massachusetts is there a waiting period or are you divorced immediately?

Massachusetts has a waiting period called the "nisi" period. See MGL c. 208 § 21 and When is My Divorce Final? for more information.

Here is an explanation from Mass. Practice v.2A, Chapter 75:1:

"In a Massachusetts divorce the court first enters a judgment nisi, which becomes absolute after 90 days from entry unless “the court within said period, for sufficient cause, upon application of any party to the action, otherwise orders.”After entry of the judgment nisi the court may not dismiss or discontinue the action on motion of either party “except upon such terms, if any, as the court may order after notice to the other party and a hearing, unless there has been filed with the court a memorandum signed by both parties, wherein they have agreed to such disposition.”

"The judgment nisi does not terminate the marriage since the parties remain married during the nisi period. If the court dismisses objections to the judgment nisi becoming absolute the judgment will become absolute. The judgment absolute terminates the marital relationship."