8 Things to Know Before You File for Divorce in Massachusetts
by Amy Saunders
1. Over 95% of all divorce cases settle before they go to trial, so stop worrying and don’t default to an adversarial position until you know you need to. Mediation may be an option, or a joint petition for divorce which you both agree to all terms.
2. Before you file for divorce, Create Goals. it is important for you to assess the most important long-term goals to guide you through the decision-making process. You can only make good decisions and navigate the multitude of steps if you know where you want to end up.
3. If you choose to represent yourself, you will need to get enough information and all the necessary forms to do it well. Consider hiring a lawyer by the hour to consult with you about special issues and to review your settlement. If you cannot afford a lawyer, your local Bar association will have a lawyer referral program or be able to refer you to a Legal Aid Society who may be able to help.
4. Only you can make the best decisions. Do some legwork, get information, speak to trustworthy friends and qualified professionals (such as accountants and financial planners, and therapists), and decide what’s best for you. Don’t jump to any conclusions or rush to a decision. You took years getting to this place, so don’t expect it to resolve overnight. A reasonable, solid, working divorce settlement takes time. You will live with the decisions for the rest of your life, so take the time, lean on resources and your support network — and do not rush the process.
5. Is it worth it? My clients often get lost in the details. If the amount of money you’re fighting over won’t matter in 5 years, it probably doesn’t matter now, so let go of it. I get it, but this stance will lead you to the poor house in lawyer fees. DO NOT FIGHT over the big screen TV. Again, focus on what will be important 5 years from now — certainly, it will not be the outdated TV.
6. Save Money by Keeping Things Organized. The more documents and legwork you do for your attorney, the less money you will ultimately pay them. Write down questions before you see your attorney to avoid additional calls and fees. If organization is not your forte, ask for help from a trusted friend, relative or accountant.
7. If your goal is “justice” or to “tell the judge my story”, get ready for disappointment. The Massachusetts court system is overcrowded and there is a lot of pressure on judges to move things quickly. There are only so many court hours a day. You will not have much time to explain to the judge or speak. The judge’s decisions will determine the rest of your life after hearing 5 minutes of your story. And that is why those 5 minutes are important, and you will need a lawyer to keep things focused towards your ultimate goals.
8. Most important of all, you will divorce and move on. There is an end. Things will get better. And no matter how hard it is to believe right now, it will get better. In my divorce, I experienced all of these emotions first hand and as a result decided to focus on divorce services to help others move on and find happiness. You really will move on, you will find happiness, even if that’s tough to picture at the moment.