Step 9: The Uncontested Divorce Hearing or “Is That All There Is?!”

Hello there,

The uncontested divorce hearing is often a culture shock to the participants.  While there is a great deal of ceremony around the actual act of marriage, divorce itself has all the charm of a trip to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Everyone needs to attend the hearing.  When the case name is called the clients and their attorneys stand at the counsel table.  The Judge may or may not read the agreement.  The attorney for the plaintiff (remember the plaintiff?  He or she is the one who filed) asks her client a series of very simple questions, name, address, date of marriage, date of separation, etc.  The Judge will ask the same questions if there aren’t attorneys present and then the Judge will ask each party if the financial statements are accurate and if they believe the other party’s financial statement is also accurate and then the Judge asks a series of questions designed to preclude anyone in the future attempting to set the agreement aside due to buyer’s remorse, i.e. do you understand the agreement?  Did anyone coerce you into signing?  Do you think it’s fair and reasonable? ..etc. Then the Judge explains how long it will be ’til the divorce is final (depending on the type of filing, 90 days or 120 days).  She then wishes everyone well and the divorce is over.

Having stood next to countless clients at this moment I know that it feels overwhelming and somehow anticlimactic.  There is no real recognition that this is a truly life altering event.  Be prepared, even if you are happy to have the process itself end, to be a bit shaken by the actual hearing.

Best,

Nancy

10 Comments


  1. I have a divorce hearing scheduled in the next few weeks. Your article was very informative. I was curious to know who is permitted to be present at the hearings besides court officials plaintiff, respondent, and attorneys.
    Thank you advance.


  2. Hi Carlos, That is a very good question, thank you.
    All hearings in the Massachusetts Probate Court are open to the public unless, for reasons particular to the matter, being heard they have been closed. One reason, among others, could be that a non party – say a juvenile with criminal issues – is being discussed, and the Court has determined that the hearing should be closed.
    That said, the general rule is you can bring whoever you want and sometimes I suggest that my clients bring one person for moral support. Now for the caveats (hey, I am a lawyer we can never say anything without qualifications): Do not bring anyone who will be provocative, noisy or who the Judge would disapprove of, i.e. no out of control family members, no children (no matter how old) and no girlfriends. And this is crucial as well: no more than one person! This person should be well behaved, well dressed and totally unobtrusive – he or she is there for moral support. Recognize that this is a universal post and does not apply necessarily to your particular circumstances, but in general this is my recommendation.
    Best,
    Nancy


  3. Hi,
    First, I am completely addicted to your blog. I started reading it earlier yesterday and just came back to it at 3AM!
    I was curious to know if you have ever come across a case where one of the parties thought they were divorced, but only years later found out that was not the case?
    This is a very unique story I heard about.
    Male spouse was in a serious accident and after coming out of a coma, delirious still, he was presented with divorce papers from what was thought to be the future ex-wife. The future ex wife only knew of his whereabouts because her brother worked in one of the hospitals he was at, and notified her (violation possibly?). He signed away. Well, the ex never filed the papers and he learned about this five years later only because she married another man (knowing she never went to court to file from the first man), and just left “spouse” number 2. She’s moving on to number 3 and now wants those papers signed. He cannot afford an attorney. Her attorney sent him the “long form” for the financial statement. They are in a “hurry up and sign” mode and he’s agreeing to that, much to my surprise, but only because he wants it done and over with like he initially thought it was. Remember, he was in a coma from a near fatal accident.
    Do you believe:
    a. His privacy rights were violated?
    b. If he just signs those forms, not even knowing what “type” of divorce she filed for if she can go after him for anything at all? Alimony? Child support?
    c. He has private loans that were made after what he thought was a divorce that he wishes to remain confidential. She has to know?
    I guess I’m asking you if this really is a challenging divorce for any lawyer to handle, or if he could get a legal “coach?”


  4. Hi There,
    Wow, that sounds like a bar exam question. It is a challenging matter for any lawyer to handle with about 6 different layers of difficulty. I would suggest that your freind get competent local counsel right away as he may have substantial rights against her. At the very least he should NOT sign anything until a lawyer has had a chance to review the documents and understand the situation.
    Good luck,
    Best,
    Nancy


  5. Hi,
    Should the non plaintiff bring an atty.?
    Thank you


  6. Hi Jack, I am not sure what hearing you are discussing but if it is for the final approval of an agreement, the answer (as usual) is, it depends. If neither of the parties has used an attorney and/or your are presenting an agreement with no questionable areas, then maybe you do not need to have one there. I am uneasy with only one attorney attending a hearing, if one side has his counsel there the other side should as well.
    I hope this helps,
    Best,
    Nancy


  7. I filed for 1B divorce in Massachusetts / currently have a restraining order against my husband. I finally received a pre-trial notice and order domestic relations equity letter, which requires me to bring a memorandum a few days prior to the trial. I am wondering if this “memorandum” is the same as a “separation agreement”.
    Thank you,
    Nina


  8. Hi there,
    I am assuming you are in Massachusetts, if not disregard this.
    No the pretrial memorandum is the (very brief) history of the marriage, your financial picture and what you want out of the divorce, and what you and your spouse cannot agree on so the court can help you settle. Read the Pretrial Order that you got from the court very carefully as it tells you what to do. If you possibly can get an attorney to represent you as most cases settle at or near the pretrial stage.
    Good Luck,
    Nancy
    This Blog/Web Site and email response is made available by Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine and Burns & Levinson LLP for educational purposes only – i.e. to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice in relation to any situation you or anyone else may have. There is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher, Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine or Burns & Levinson LLP. The information on this Blog/Web Site and email response should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state engaged by you for such purpose.


  9. I am confused. Am I the plaintiff or the defendant? He (my spouse) filed the divorce first, but he didn’t follow up on this anymore. After a year when I found out it is still hanging, I filed for a hearing. In this case, am I the defendant or am I the plaintiff?


  10. Hi there,
    It sounds (without seeing the paperwork) as if he is the Plaintiff.
    Good luck,
    Nancy
    This Blog/Web Site and email response is made available by Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine and Burns & Levinson LLP for educational purposes only – i.e. to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice in relation to any situation you or anyone else may have. There is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher, Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine or Burns & Levinson LLP. The information on this Blog/Web Site and email response should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state engaged by you for such purpose.

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