For some couples, divorce is a long, hard-fought process where at least one spouse is determined to win at any cost. These divorces can drag on for years, taking a heavy emotional toll on everyone involved.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you and your spouse can agree on all of the issues that need to be resolved in your divorce, you can obtain an uncontested divorce, also known as a “1A” divorce. Uncontested divorces are the quickest and cheapest way to end a marriage in Massachusetts.
Who Can File for an Uncontested Divorce?
Before you file for an uncontested divorce, you must have resolved all the issues in your divorce, including division of property and debts, alimony, child custody, child support and any other financial issues.
To do this, you and your spouse must be willing to be honest with each other, especially when it comes to finances. You must both truly want to work out your issues in a way that is fair, because uncontested divorce is based on agreement, not on winners and losers. And if you have children, you must be willing to place their needs ahead of your own.
Some couples are able to reach an agreement on their own, and others do it with the assistance of a mediator. If you have any unresolved issues that will need to be decided by a judge, your divorce is contested and you cannot file for an uncontested divorce.
Financial and custody issues can be complicated, so you should always get advice from a lawyer and understand your rights before trying to negotiate important divorce issues.
Division of Assets and Debts
In Massachusetts, just about everything a husband or wife owns can be considered “marital property” to be divided in the divorce, including houses, cars, bank accounts, collections, retirement plans, pensions, and property that one spouse acquired before the marriage. Debts must also be divided.
The law says that a couple’s assets and debts must be divided in a way that is fair and reasonable, but the division does not have to be 50-50. Assets can be owned jointly, awarded to one spouse or the other, or sold and the proceeds divided.
Judges have a list of factors that they consider in deciding how to divide assets and debts, and couples may find the list useful in negotiating an uncontested divorce agreement. But a husband and wife also have the freedom to be creative in coming up with a division that is fair and works for their particular needs and situation.
To get an uncontested divorce, the parents must agree about child custody issues and approve a parenting plan. The parenting plan must be in the best interest of the child, taking into account the child’s age and other needs.
The parenting plan will address all aspects of the parents’ relationship with the child, including which days of the week and which holidays the child will spend with each parent, the parents’ rights and responsibilities, and which parent will claim the child as an exemption on his or her income tax return.
Alimony and Child Support
The amount and duration of alimony in an uncontested divorce depends on the circumstances of each case. Judges consider a variety of factors that may be helpful as you negotiate an alimony amount and decide whether alimony should continue indefinitely or end after a specific amount of time.
Reaching an agreement about child support may not be as difficult as you’d think. Child support in Massachusetts is awarded according to a mathematical formula that considers the income of both parents, child care costs, health care costs for the child and the parents, and other factors such as a parent’s obligation to support children from a previous relationship. Judges must apply these guidelines in an uncontested divorce unless the parties have reached a different agreement that provides at least the same level of protection for the children.
Taxes and Insurance
Taxes may be the last thing on your mind when you’re divorcing, but it’s good to know that tax consequences of an uncontested divorce. For example, timing may be important: you and your spouse can file a joint tax return if you are still legally married, but your right to file a joint return ends in the year your divorce becomes final. Alimony also carries tax consequences for both the paying spouse and the recipient spouse.
Your separation agreement should also address health insurance. If one spouse has employer-sponsored insurance, your agreement can provide that both of you will be covered under that plan until the dependent spouse remarries.
Filing for an Uncontested Divorce
Unlike a contested divorce, where one party files the divorce papers, the husband and wife jointly file for an uncontested divorce. They must ask for a no-fault divorce based on “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.”
You must file several uncontested divorce forms and a joint separation agreement that describes how all the issues in the marriage have been resolved. Each party must file a financial statement. Although this can seem difficult, a court will not grant a divorce without a financial statement from both husband and wife.
If there are minor children, the parties must attend a parenting class and file additional forms relating to child custody and support.
When all the paperwork has been filed, the court will set a hearing date. Hearings in uncontested divorce cases are usually short, routine procedures.
An uncontested divorce can be a relatively simple, quick and inexpensive way to end a marriage. But negotiating all the issues can be complicated, and it’s important to understand your rights before you agree to anything. Our attorneys are here to help.