Timelines of Divorce


It’s the million dollar question that just about every divorce client asks during the initial conference: how long will it be until I am divorced? The answer: it depends. Fundamentally, the answer to that question depends on whether or not the parties file a joint petition for divorce.

By statute, parties are permitted to file a joint petition for divorce.[1] This joint petition may alternatively be known as a “1A” (named for the section of the statute) or uncontested petition. If the parties file a joint petition for divorce, they must have already come to a complete agreement regarding their divorce and they must file their notarized separation agreement along with their joint petition for divorce. The court will schedule a hearing date on the joint petition to approve your separation agreement. What determines how long it is until you are divorced under a joint petition for divorce is how quickly the court schedules your hearing date. After your hearing, a judgment of divorce nisi[2] will issue 30 days after the hearing date and your divorce will become final by operation of law (or automatically) 90 days after that, for a total of 120 days after your hearing date.

The alternative to filing a joint petition for divorce is for one party to file a complaint for divorce, in which the party filing the complaint is named as the plaintiff and the spouse is named as the defendant.[3] The Probate and Family Court has time standards, which are goals for the amount of time it takes to complete various types of cases. For a complaint for divorce, the time standard is 14 months,[4] but unless the parties come to an agreement, they should anticipate a longer duration. What determines how long it is until you are divorced when a complaint for divorce has been filed typically is either how long it takes for you and your spouse to come to an agreement or if you are unable to come to an agreement, how long it takes before you are able to get a trial date from the court. Once you either have a hearing to approve your separation agreement or the judge issues a decision following a trial, a judgment of divorce nisi will issue and it will become final by operation of law 90 days later.

Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer as to exactly how long it will be before your divorce becomes final. However, the guidelines above should give you a general idea of the timeline differences between a joint petition for divorce and a complaint for divorce.

[1] M.G.L. c. 208, § 1A.

[2] Pronounced “nigh-sigh”

[3] M.G.L. c. 208, § 1B.

[4] Probate and Family Court Standing Order 1-06.


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