According to the Massachusetts divorce statute:
Judgments of divorce shall in the first instance be judgments nisi, and shall become absolute after the expiration of ninety days from the entry thereof, unless the court within said period, for sufficient cause, upon application of any party to the action, otherwise orders.
A “judgment nisi” means a judgment that comes into effect on a specified date unless within a certain time period cause is shown why it should not go into effect. For spouses getting divorced in Massachusetts, the nisi period results in the parties remaining married for 90 days after the Judgment of Divorce is issued. So what exactly is the reason for the nisi period?
The nisi period is a waiting period designed to allow parties to change their minds about the divorce, even those who have gone through protracted litigation and a trial. For couples who file an uncontested Joint Petition for Divorce pursuant to G.L. Chapter 208, Section 1A (instead of a contested action initiated under Section 1B), there is an additional 30 day waiting period between approval of their settlement agreement and the issuance of the Judgment of Divorce, elongating the wait to be single to 120 days.
As recently as June 2018, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed in Bacistreri v. Bacistreri, 93 Mass.App.Ct. 515 (2018) that a marriage is not over until the Judgment becomes absolute after expiration of the nisi period. Therefore, even after a Judgment of Divorce is signed by a Judge and custody is decided, support is ordered, and property is divided, the spouses are still married to each other for 90 days. Often, the Judgment is issued many months, or even years, after the divorce action was initiated. One consequence of the nisi period is that neither party to the divorce can remarry until the nisi period expires. Additionally, if the nisi period does not expire before December 31 of the year in which the Judgment is issued, the parties are still married at year-end, which impacts the status of the parties for tax purposes.
State Senator Cynthia Creem has proposed legislation which would, among other things, shorten the nisi period to thirty days. The proposed legislation, entitled An Act Relative to Equitable Divorce Proceedings, was heard before the Massachusetts House and Senate in July 2019, but no action has been taken to date. While it is not clear why any nisi period is required at all, a reduction from 90 days to 30 days is a step in the right direction.