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In Massachusetts, what happens at a Final Hearing for Divorce?

A Final Hearing for divorce occurs as a last step in either an uncontested divorce or when the parties reach a full settlement in a contested divorce.  It is a hearing in front of  a Probate and Family Court judge where the judge asks both parties a series of questions to make sure that they really want the divorce.

Sometimes the judge will ask both parties the questions and sometimes the judge will ask that the attorneys ask their client the questions.

Every judge does it a little bit differently but generally, these are the questions that gets asked:

  • State each parties’ name and address to the court
  • Were you married to each other on [insert marriage date]?
  • Were you married at [insert city where married]?
  • Did you last live together on [insert date of separation] at [insert city where last lived together]?
  • Are there any minor children of the marriage?
  • If so, what are their names and dates of birth?
  • On or about [insert date], did you both suffer a breakdown of your marriage?
  • Does that breakdown continue to this date?
  • Did you each file a Financial Statement with the Court?
  • Did you both disclosure all of your income, assets, expenses and liabilities?
  • Did you both get a chance to examine each other’s financial statements?
  • Do you both believe that the other disclosed all of their income, assets, expenses, and liabilities?
  • Did you two enter into a Separation Agreement which is filed with the court?
  • Did you read it?  Do you understand it?  Did you have it translated to you in your own language?
  • Did you sign it of your own free will?  Did anyone coerce you to sign the Separation Agreement?

After the judge asks all the relevant questions and the judge gets a satisfactory answer, the judge will make a ruling right away.  The judge will “find” that the divorce is irretrievably broken and that the Separation Agreement was entered into by both parties and not a product of duress or coercion   The judge will “find” that the Separation Agreement is fair and reasonable in light of the circumstances.

If this is an uncontested divorce, the judge will then tell the parties that a Judgment of Divorce will enter in 30 days and will become effective 90 days thereafter.  So in total, there is a waiting period of 120 days after the hearing for the divorce is to be final.

If the divorce started as a contested divorce, then the Judgment will be final in 90 days after the hearing.

During the 90 or 120 day period of time, the parties are still married.  They cannot remarry.  However, they don’t need to do anything else with the court.  After the expiration of that waiting period (called the Nisi period), they will automatically be divorced.

It is a good idea to have a lawyer look over all the documents for your divorce before the final hearing.  Some judges are very detailed and if something is not filed correctly, they will not allow for the divorce.