Uncontested Pro Se Divorce in Boston
July 21, 2008 9:46 PM   Subscribe

My SO and I are getting divorced in Boston, MA. We'd like to try to do it without a lawyer, due to costs and the fact that the break is relatively amicable. Any tips/info/recommendations about a pro se divorce (in MA or otherwise) or the divorce process generally in Massachusetts?

I've seen the forms and instructions at the mass.gov site, and we're starting to review them. We have no kids and no house, and we pretty much know how we want the assets divided. We earn close to the same amount and neither of us is seeking alimony. Will a court just rubber stamp what we come up with between ourselves?

We have a joint therapist to help the mental part of it go as smoothly as we can. Each of us has our own therapist, too.

Any advice on getting a divorce without counsel? On getting an uncontested divorce in Massachusetts generally?

Thanks in advance. I know you are not my lawyer, and I'm not seeking legal advice. Private emails can be sent to myaskme@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My ex-husband and I got divorced (different state) with one of those self-help legal forms books. Search for Massachusetts divorce on Amazon, read the reviews, buy one or more of the best-reviewed books, fill out the templates they provide and follow the process they explain.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:15 PM on July 21, 2008

take a trip to your nearest law library, they are open to the public and have many useful books. the librarians may also be very helpful.

also, talk to someone in the registry of probate (or something like that)... the probate court will handle the divorce.

i think the biggest problem in ma will just be figuring out how to file the paperwork correctly.
posted by geos at 12:04 AM on July 22, 2008

I just went through an uncontested pro se divorce in RI, so I can at least fill you in on the basics.

The courthouse will have all of the forms that you need. Go to the Family Court and tell them that you are filing for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. One of you will have to be the Plaintiff (on whom the burden for filing all of the papers will fall), so decide amongst yourself who is doing the filing. The first forms will ask you for documentation of your finances - how much money each of you has independently, what your joint assets are. After filing these, along with giving a copy of your marriage license and a filing fee, you'll be given your court date. In RI, this was three months away.

The court hearing is a surreal experience. Most places (this was true for me in RI, and true for my parents in VT) schedule all of the appointments to take place at 9AM on a given day, so you get to sit through all of the divorces in one morning. In addition to the two of you, you will need to bring a witness who is familiar with your relationship (in RI, it was required that the witness be acquainted with the Plaintiff for at least one year) to testify that the marriage can not be saved. (Which is very simple. The judge asks "Is there any hope for reconciliation?" The witness says "No" - end of story.) You will be asked simple questions: how long were you married, when did you separate, given an example of the differences that lead to the breakdown of the marriage. The judge will then give his/her ruling, which will basically say - in legalese - that the divorce is granted.

It is important that you obtain a transcription from the court of this ruling because you will need to write it down word for word on the final entry forms.

In RI, I had to file one form directly after the hearing (within 10 days) that was a verbatim statement of the judge's decision, signed by a judge, to pend final entry of the divorce. Ninety one days later, I had to file the final entry paper, which basically just says that there is no reason not to grant the divorce. So, the divorce is final three months AFTER your hearing. From what I understand, all states have a waiting period (I guess to make sure you really mean it) - in RI it was three months, it might be slightly different in MA.

That's it. The paperwork is fairly straightforward, but since these are legal documents, you might want to get a few copies of each of them since everything has to be worded perfectly. We didn't have a lawyer and I had never filed any legal papers before and I was able to manage to get everything right by the second try, if not the first. It was tricky, but it is by no means impossible. They do provide you with examples to copy, thankfully.

Best of luck to you.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:46 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am about to trek up to Mass. in a few weeks for my divorce hearing. We were in much the same situation as you - no kids, assets already divided, etc. We chose to go with a mediator rather than an attorney because it suited our desire to make the actual divorce process as amicable as possible, and I am extremely happy that we chose to do that.

The mediator (also an attorney) interviewed us and drew up the papers for us, and also pointed out a few areas where a judge might have questions during the actual hearing. In particular, Massachusetts law allows divorcing couples to decide whether their divorce will be subject to family court laws after it is final (i.e. if you don't fulfill one of your divorce agreement conditions) or if it will be treated as any other type of contract. Our mediator spent time making sure we understood the difference, because it is likely we'll be asked about it next month.

Mass. divorces take a while, especially if you are in Suffolk! I filed our paperwork in mid-April and the earliest hearing we could get was mid-August. 30 days after the divorce hearing, the judge will file the decree nisi, and 90 days after that the divorce will be final.

Mail me if you want more info, and I'm happy to provide reference to our mediator as well. It was, if anything can be so named, a decent process that did not introduce additional grief or anger into the situation, and both my ex and I are happy we did it this way.
posted by catlet at 7:35 AM on July 22, 2008

My ex-wife and I also got a lawyerless divorce in Massachusetts, back in 1998. We used a previous version of this book, which provided all the forms and even a sample separation agreement, which was very helpful because neither of us knew all the legalese necessary to write one from scratch. We filled out all the forms, wrote a separation agreement, got all of that notarized (your bank should have a notary, if you can't find one elsewhere), and filed it at the courthouse.

We got assigned a hearing date about two months after filing. We both dressed up, went to the courthouse, waited for our names to be called, then stood up together in front of the judge and affirmed that yes, we both understood the agreement, and that yes, we were both absolutely sure we wanted to go through with it. The judge granted a divorce nisi. After 90 days (mandatory), it automatically became final. After that you can go to the clerk's office at the courthouse to get an official copy of the divorce ruling showing the date it became final. My ex and I each got a copy, though I never needed mine (and I don't think she ever needed hers either).

Feel free to e-mail me (address in profile) if you have any question.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:17 AM on July 22, 2008

I went through the same thing in Wisconsin. I personally chose to see a lawyer just to make sure I was doing everything right, but she didn't represent me in court or fill out any of the forms. I was very clear to my ex about what I was doing, and the lawyer's help made a difference to both of us more than anything. However, I really did it for my peace of mind as a soon-to-be single woman. Really, you don't know where or when your ex will turn into a weirdo.

I went twice, showing her my progress with the forms for about half an hour at each time, and I paid a total of $250 for everything.

That said, you could get similar advice from a legal clinic that law students often have at courthouses. Note that I said law students, not the pre-law society or legal studies students; my friend found the clinic helpful but not the on-campus booth that the latter groups held. (This might sound obvious, but not really.)

Good luck!
posted by Madamina at 9:17 AM on July 22, 2008

Oh, and as for our hearing: the judge wasn't even wearing a robe (I thought he was the janitor; it was a Friday in the summer, so he was very casual), and he complimented us on how well we seemed to work with each other, and aside from asking the standard "is there any hope of reconciliation" question, we didn't have to answer anything else in detail. It was very brief, and then we went and had a soda together.
posted by Madamina at 9:20 AM on July 22, 2008

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