How to file for divorce in Massachusetts WITHOUT a lawyer
To file for a divorce in Massachusetts without a lawyer – you will need to first setup a file organizer to keep everything orderly and assure no details are missed. Organization will be very important.
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Before we get started — we need to make sure residency requirements are met. A couple must live together in Massachusetts as husband and wife to file for divorce. One of the spouses must be a resident of Massachusetts if the cause for divorce occurred within Massachusetts. If the grounds for divorce occurred outside of Massachusetts, the plaintiff must have lived in Massachusetts for at least one year prior to deciding to file for divorce. It is important that you meet these requirements to avoid filing in the wrong state. If you meet these requirements, let’s get started …
STEP 1. IMPORTANT The first step is to gather all of your paperwork and make photocopies. If you are still in the marital home, I would do this IMMEDIATELY. The lack of documents and trying to get copies later – can be a timely ordeal. In my practice, having lawyers request and track down documents is a waste of time and money for clients. This can save you a lot of hassle later … so gather the documents below FIRST and store the copies OUTSIDE of the marital home.
- Last 3 years of taxes
- Most recent pay stubs
- Property tax bills
- Mortgage statements
- Bank account statements
- Retirement account statements
- Credit Card Statements
STEP 2. Get a certified copy of your marriage certificate from the town hall of the town/city you were married or resided in. TIP: A copy of the marriage certificate from the church is NOT a valid document to file for divorce in Massachusetts.
STEP 3. Make a decision if you will file for a contested or uncontested divorce. A contested divorce will freeze your spouse’s assets so they cannot spend your money, or if you have concerns that they will increase debts/liabilities or attempt to hide assets/monies.
It may be to your benefit to file an uncontested divorce where both parties mutually agree on the terms, BUT only if you feel your spouse will be cooperative. Whether to file contested or uncontested divorce is one of the most important decisions in the process for your successful outcome. The remainder of these steps will focus on an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts.
STEP 4. Draft a separation agreement encompassing all of the terms that you both agreed upon. The court must review the agreement and approve it as “fair and reasonable” and may be rejected by the judge if there are any missing terms or the court deems it unfair. Some judges routinely reject agreements, so it is important to have it carefully written. This is an important step. If you have difficulty creating a separation agreement, you may consider hiring an attorney by the hour to review and assist. You may also consider a collaborative divorce where an attorney acts a a neutral party to find the best agreement for BOTH parties. A collaborative divorce usually costs around $1,000-$1,500 (split between both parties).
STEP 5. If you have children (minor child under the age of 18 years old at the time of filing), BOTH parties MUST attend a Parent Education Class. The court will NOT assign a court date until this is completed. Buyer Beware – There are many Parent Education Classes available to take online, however these are NOT valid in Massachusetts. Only sign-up with the approved live programs on the court’s website.
STEP 6. Complete and gather all of the forms to file for an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts.
- A filing fee of $215.00 (Payable to “Plymouth Probate Court”. Bank check or money order is required. No personal checks are accepted.)
- A Joint Petition for Divorce form.
- A Certificate of Absolute Divorce or Annulment – Form R408 form.
- A certified copy of your marriage certificate – You must get this from the town/city where you were married.
- An Affidavit from both parties attesting to an Irretrievable Breakdown of the marriage
- A Separation Agreement signed by both parties with each signature notarized. This must address the issues of the division of marital property, proper provisions for alimony (even if it is not requested by either party), custody, support and maintenance of any minor children.
- A Financial Statement must be completed. If your annual income is less than $75,000, a pink SHORT FORM FINANCIAL STATEMENT is required. If your annual income is more than $75,000, a pink LONG FORM FINANCIAL STATEMENT is required.
- Worksheet for Child Support Guidelines if there are any minor children of the marriage
- Affidavit Disclosing Care or Custody of a child if there are any minor children of the marriage, you MUST file this form.