How Long Does a Divorce Take in Massachusetts?

An image of the inscription time next to an hourglass, which indicates the duration of the divorce

An uncontested divorce in Massachusetts, where both parties agree on major issues, may take approximately 4 to 6 months to finalize. Contested divorces, which involve disputes and court proceedings, can extend the process to a year or more, depending on complexity and backlog.

Massachusetts Divorce Process Timeline

The man on the hourglass recorded the time it will take him to get a divorce.
The timeline of the divorce process in Massachusetts can vary based on complexity of the case, court schedules, and the cooperation between the parties.

A contested Massachusetts divorce process can take about 10-12 months and more, while an uncontested one can last 4-6 months. A contested dissolution of marriage typically takes longer to finalize since the hearing on the case can usually be scheduled in not less than 6 months from filing with the court, and there is a need for court intervention in resolving disputes. To familiarize you with the Massachusetts divorce process, we will outline the steps involved and provide an approximate timeframe for each stage below.

1) Gather Required Documents (1-2 weeks)

This step usually takes about 1-2 weeks. During this time, you should collect vital divorce documents such as financial records, property deeds, personal information of spouses and children, etc. It’s important to ensure that you have access to such data since you will later need to indicate it in the divorce forms.

To start the divorce, you should prepare case-specific paperwork, including the separation agreement, the Joint Petition for Divorce, the Affidavit of Irretrievable Breakdown, the Record of Absolute Divorce, etc. Moreover, both spouses need to fill out financial statements. The papers should be error-free and up-to-date to be accepted by the court.

If your case is uncontested and you need help with the divorce forms, our online service is here to assist you with the paperwork. We provide case-specific forms necessary for your divorce and detailed instructions on what to do next and how to file with the court.

2) File a Petition for Divorce (1-2 days)

If you are filing for divorce in Massachusetts jointly, meaning the case is uncontested, or so-called 1A divorce, you should submit a Joint Petition for Divorce and other forms to the court.

If you are interested in how to file for divorce in MA, you can do it in person with the local Probate and Family Court. Also, the divorce paperwork can be sent by mail or uploaded via the e-filing system, if applicable in the case. When filing the documents, make sure to pay a mandatory filing fee amounting to $215. If you cannot cover the fees, prepare and file the Affidavit of Indigency. If all papers are in order, the filing can be completed in one day.

3) Serve Divorce Papers (1-3 weeks)

Woman filing divorce papers while sitting at the table

Serving a respondent means notifying them officially about the divorce case. A petitioner should do so within 90 days from initial filing. To serve your spouse, you will need to hire a sheriff or a constable and give them the documents that the other party should get – the copies of the Summons, the Complaint, and the Tracking Notice. Please note that you will need to pay for their assistance. The person who completed the service should then fill out the Return of Service on the second page of the Summons. 

If the divorce is uncontested, the serving stage is not required since the parties file with the court jointly.

4) Draft a Separation Agreement (4-8 weeks)

Spouses create a Separation Agreement to outline the specific terms for the division of assets, child custody, child support, spousal support, visitation rights, and any other matters related to the divorce. Drafting such an agreement can take around 4-8 weeks, depending on the level of cooperation between spouses and the need to involve any third parties.

Those applying for 1A, or uncontested divorce, should include it in the initial set of documents. If spouses disagree on some divorce terms, they can try to draft this agreement after the service process, involving their lawyers or other experts, such as mediators. It can potentially help reduce the duration of future court litigation and the number of hearings required for the judge to make a final decision on the case.

5) Attend a Hearing (2-24 weeks)

In uncontested divorce, once all necessary documents have been submitted, the court can schedule a hearing right away and notify you through mail about its date. However, how soon they will be able to review the case will mostly depend on the court’s workload.

During the hearing, the judge will check the Separation Agreement to confirm whether it effectively addresses all pertinent issues and whether the terms stipulated do not contradict the state laws. A judgment nisi will then be automatically issued after 30 days.

If the case is contested or fault-based, a hearing cannot be scheduled before a minimum of 6 months from the filing date unless the court has granted a waiver. You will receive a notice containing details about the scheduled hearing. The judge will assess the Separation Agreement, if parties managed to draft one, and decide whether to approve it. If parties cannot agree on some issues, the judge will make a decision on the matter.

6) Waiting Period (90 days)

The woman recorded the end of the waiting period required to obtain a divorce.
The waiting period for divorce in Massachusetts varies depending on the type of divorce.

The divorce can be officially finalized in 90 days, or the so-called nisi period in the state, after the judgment date. It gives ample time for both parties to change their mind about getting divorced.

7) Finalize Divorce (1-2 weeks)

After the mandatory nisi period is over and the case is considered finalized, you can request a certified copy of your decree from the court that granted your divorce. Please note that the court will not send it to you. The decree serves as an official proof that your marriage is over.

8) Close Joint Accounts and Update Documents (Varies)

Spouses should close joint bank accounts after all the funds are distributed upon the court order or the agreements made and open individual bank accounts in their name. Also, they should close joint credit card accounts or remove one party’s name from them to prevent further accumulation of debt. It is necessary to update the documents to reflect the changes in your marital status and the name change, if applicable.

Average Length of Uncontested Divorce in MA

The average duration of getting a divorce in Massachusetts is approximately 4-6 months if the case is uncontested. It is crucial to consider several main factors that can influence this duration:

  • the workload of the court and how soon they can set a hearing,
  • mandatory 30 days from the moment the judge approves the agreement till the judgment nisi is automatically issued,
  • period of 90 days from the judgment date till the case is considered final.

Average Length of Contested Divorce in MA

The average length of a contested divorce process can vary from 10 months to a year and more. The process is usually significantly longer since the first hearing can be scheduled no earlier than in 6 months from filing.

Several hearings may be required until spouses come to an agreement or the court has enough information to make final decisions on the case. After the judgment is entered, parties will need to wait 90 days more till the divorce process is finalized and they can get the divorce decree.

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