When one or both spouses come to the realization that a divorce is necessary, the last thing either party wants is a time-consuming court process, especially if one or both spouses is looking to remarry. In Massachusetts, the law requires certain waiting periods to be observed, depending on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. An understanding of how these time requirements affect when a divorce becomes final in Massachusetts can help you know when you can legally remarry.
Overview of the Waiting Periods
In Massachusetts, it is illegal to have more than one husband or wife. This means that you must wait until the divorce becomes final, often referred to as "absolute," before you can remarry. Although couples may be in a rush to finalize their divorce, the law provides for specific waiting periods that must be followed before the divorce decree becomes absolute. A different procedure applies depending on whether the divorce was filed jointly or contested, so this can affect how long the divorce process takes. In addition, even after the divorce has been finalized, a separate three-day waiting period applies to all couples who have filed an intention to marry before the government will issue a marriage license. This can be waived by a showing of good cause and the payment of a fee, but it is important to consider both the waiting periods for divorce and the waiting period to marry.
The Joint Divorce Process
If both spouses are able to reach agreement on the major aspects of the divorce, they may file a separation agreement and a joint petition for divorce. The court will schedule a hearing on the separation agreement where both parties will testify as to why the marriage has suffered an irreparable breakdown. A judge will make findings and issue a judgment within 30 days; however, the divorce is not considered absolute until 90 days after the judgment. In other words, it can be up to 120 days after the hearing before you can remarry.
The Contested Divorce Process
If the spouses are unable to reach agreement on the decision to get divorced, or with regard to major issues such as custody or support, one party may file a complaint for divorce. The court will hold a trial after six months have passed and make a determination as to whether there has a been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage. After the court enters the judgment, the parties must wait 90 days until the divorce becomes absolute. In other words, it can take at least 270 days before you can remarry.
Effect of Separation Agreement on a Contested Divorce
If one spouse files a complaint for divorce and the matter proceeds as a contested divorce, the parties may still reach a separation agreement in lieu of going to trial. In that instance, the waiting periods of an uncontested divorce will apply, requiring a hearing in 30 days and a 90-day post-judgment waiting period, totaling 120 days since the time the separation agreement was filed.