Divorces can be a simple process if both spouses agree to the divorce and its terms, including property division, alimony and child custody. However, spouses can divorce even if they do not agree on the terms of the divorce, and neither spouse can prevent a divorce by not giving consent in Massachusetts.
Contested Vs. Uncontested
Divorces in Massachusetts are either contested, meaning the spouses dispute at least one issue in the divorce, or uncontested, meaning the spouses agree on all aspects of the divorce. While an uncontested divorce is a simpler and quicker process than a contested divorce, a spouse’s lack of consent to the divorce merely postpones the divorce itself. When spouses choose to contest certain issues in the divorce, including the dissolution of the marriage, property division, alimony or child custody, the court may require hearings that make the process longer and more expensive, but the divorce will eventually be granted.
In Massachusetts, spouses begin the divorce process by filing a petition with the court. If the divorce is uncontested, the spouses can file a joint petition for divorce with a separation agreement included that lists all the major terms of the divorce. However, if one spouse does not consent to the divorce or disagrees with any proposed terms, the other spouse must file an individual complaint for divorce and serve a summons and copy of the complaint on his spouse after filing the complaint with the court.
Courts must have grounds, or reasons, upon which to base the dissolution of a marriage. Massachusetts law allows spouses to file for divorce on fault-based grounds or no-fault grounds. If one spouse knows the other spouse will not consent to the divorce, he can use the no-fault ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This ground does not require the filing spouse to prove his spouse is at fault for the divorce. Instead, he only has to prove that he no longer wishes to live with or loves his spouse anymore. Since the other spouse cannot really disprove such assertions, the judge will likely grant the divorce.
If one spouse contests the terms of the divorce, both spouses will have to go to court and let a judge decide the terms for them, including property issues and child custody. In contested cases, a full trial is typically scheduled for a date more than six months after the initial filing of the divorce action, so spouses wishing to have a quick divorce can benefit from reaching agreement so a trial becomes unnecessary.
Though the non-filing spouse can contest the divorce, he can also choose not to answer the complaint when it is served on him. However, this does not stop the filing spouse from getting a divorce. Instead, the court will move ahead with the divorce process without input from the non-filing spouse. The court may take special effort to reschedule hearings or provide additional notice to the non-filing spouse, thereby prolonging the divorce process, but the court can eventually grant a divorce without input from the non-filing spouse through a default judgment.