Common Divorce Questions

This is a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) sent to our law firm on the subject of divorce. If you have questions beyond the scope of what is discussed here, please contact us online or call our office: 978-494-6669. Based in Andover, we serve clients in northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

How long does it take to get a divorce?

This can vary depending on how busy the courts are, but an uncontested no-fault divorce can be finalized in as little as a few months. Contested courtroom divorces can take up to a year or more.

What is the difference between no-fault and fault divorce?

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you have the option of filing for no-fault divorce or fault divorce. In a no-fault divorce, neither spouse has to prove blame on the part of the other spouse. You must simply show that there has been an "irretrievable breakdown" in the marriage. No-fault divorce is by far the most common kind of divorce proceeding.

Fault divorce requires that one spouse prove that the other spouse committed an act or engaged in behavior that ended the marriage. Some grounds for fault divorce include:

  • Adultery
  • Physical abuse
  • Being convicted of a crime and imprisoned
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Impotence
  • Abandonment

Is there an advantage to filing for fault-based divorce?

The answer will depend on your particular situation, but in many cases the answer is "no." Fault-based divorce proceedings are considerably more expensive and take much longer to finalize in court. Even if you believe that the divorce was caused by your spouse's behavior, we only recommend pursuing fault divorce if a judgment in your favor would be very advantageous, which is often not the case.

If my spouse and I both agree on the divorce terms, do we still need to appear in court?

A courtroom appearance is generally required for all divorces. However, this will not be a complicated or lengthy process for an uncontested divorce. Our attorneys will tell you what to expect and guide you through your appearance.

What is mediation and Collaborative divorce?

For spouses who do not want to pursue a traditional litigated divorce, alternative methods like mediation or collaborative divorce can help you agree on divorce terms in a more efficient manner outside of the courtroom.

Mediation involves a third-party mediator who sits down with both spouses and guides discussion of the various divorce terms. Lawyers are typically absent during mediation sessions, but can advise both spouses in between.

During collaborative divorce, lawyers are present during the actual negotiations to move the process forward. Once both parties have agreed on terms, the lawyers will draft the divorce agreement.

After the divorce, how will our property be divided?

That depends on what kind of divorce proceedings you select. If you and your spouse choose to engage in mediation or collaborative divorce, you can work together to decide how property should be divided. This does not need to be an even split if you believe that another arrangement makes more sense.

In a contested divorce, however, the court will decide how to divide assets for you. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are both so-called "equitable distribution" states, which means that a judge will determine a division that is fair, but not necessarily a 50-50 division. To make this determination, the judge will consider a large number of factors. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The financial position of each spouse, including current finances and future earning potential
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Dependent children, if any
  • General contribution to the marriage, including any disparities
  • Whether one spouse helped support the other spouse's career advancement or other opportunities

How is child custody determined?

Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire will act according to the best interests of the child. Unless proven otherwise, both parents are presumed to be equally capable and competent —there is no preference given to one parent over the other. However, the court will take into account all past history as it relates to the well-being and happiness of the child.

The parents must also agree on the terms of a parenting plan, which includes where the child will be and who has decision-making power in legal matters. When dealing with matters like child custody, our law firm will use the highest standards of care and sensitivity.

How is alimony determined?

Alimony is a highly individualized determination, both in duration and amount. It is also a gender-neutral determination. Some of the criteria are similar to the above listed in property division. When assigning alimony, judges will consider:

  • The financial needs of each spouse
  • The employment opportunities and job skills of each spouse
  • Each spouse's current income
  • What additional job training, if any, could help a spouse become self-supporting
  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and health of each spouse