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What Court handles divorces?
In Massachusetts, divorce actions are generally filed in the Probate and Family Court. 

Most residents of Essex County have their family law cases heard in the Probate and Family Court, temporarily located at 45 Congress Street, Suite 170, Salem, MA 01970.  The renovations of the old building, located on Essex  Street, in Salem, MA, are scheduled for completion late this spring or early summer - much to my relief, as the old Courthouse is just around the corner from my office .  Residents of Andover, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen  have their cases heard in the Probate and Family Court sitting at 2 Appleton Street, Lawrence, MA 01840.

What happens at the hearing of a Joint Petition for Divorce (1-A)? 
A hearing will be held a few weeks after the Joint Petition for Divorce and Separation Agreement are filed with the Court.  At that hearing, a Judge will review the Separation Agreement.  If the Judge concludes that the Separation Agreement was knowingly and voluntarily made by the parties, is fair and reasonable and provides appropriately for the children, the Judge will approve the Separation Agreement. A Judgment of Divorce Nisi will enter 30 days later, adopting the terms of the Separation Agreement.

When is the divorce final?  
A divorce judgment becomes "absolute" (or final) ninety (90) days after entry of the Judgment of Divorce Nisi.  You do not have to go back to court or do anything else. It will automatically become final.

What are the grounds of divorce?  
In Massachusetts the grounds for divorce can be for "fault" (where one party's conduct caused the breakdown of the marriage) or "no-fault" (where the marriage fell apart under its own weight).

Under Massachusetts law, the "fault" grounds for divorce are: adultery, impotency, desertion for one year or more, gross and confirmed intoxication (intoxicating liquor, opium, or other drugs), cruel and abusive treatment, and non-support of the other spouse. 

Most divorces in Massachusetts today are for "no-fault" grounds - where the marriage has become "irretrievably broken down."  Irretrievable breakdown divorces come in two forms: contested and uncontested.  If the parties have signed a Separation Agreement at the time they file for divorce, they may submit a Joint Petition for Divorce - a so called "1-A" divorce.  If they are in disagreement as to the terms of the divorce they may seek a contested or "1-B" divorce.   A contested case is a litigated one, although the vast majority of cases that start as contested eventually settle.  

How long does a contested divorce case take?  
There are "time standards" that call for contested cases to go to trial within fourteen (14) months after the Complaint is filed.  However, some cases take longer and others may settle or be tried in less time.

What are the Section 34 factors?
When a divorce case goes to trial, the Judge must consider the following factors in determining property division:  the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, life style, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, property, liabilities and needs of each of the parties, whether alimony will be paid and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. As to property division, the Judge must also consider the present and future needs of the dependent children of the marriage and may also consider each party's contribution to the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of his or her respective assets and the contribution of each party as a homemaker to the family.

 What is "discovery?"  

"Discovery" is the process for obtaining information in a court case.  The information sought is often financial, but may also involve other issues - such as custody or parenting issues.  Discovery requests may take the form of a request for a financial statement (a sworn document that sets out a party's income, expenses, assets and liabilities), interrogatories (written questions to be answered in wiritng and under oath) or a request for production of documents (such as bank statements, credit card statements or tax returns).  A "deposition" is another form of discovery whereby a witness is questioned under oath and the questions and answers are recorded.

What is a "Separation Agreement?"  
Although its name suggested that it is an agreement for people who are separated, a "Separation Agreement" is a divorce settlement agreement. 

I find the picture below to be very symbolic of my work as a lawyer. The image was taken toward the top of Mt. Jefferson, in NH.  It depicts a "cairn," a pile of stones that act as a guidepost along the trail.  An attorney's job is to guide his clients through the divorce process. 


 
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