Joint Petition for Divorce

Many divorces are contested over the distribution of marital assets, debts, custody, child support, visitation, and spousal maintenance. However, a fair number are not and the parties are able to agree on the issues applicable to their marriage without the need for litigation.

In an uncontested divorce, the parties can file a joint petition for divorce where both are petitioners. If you decide to pursue this course, be aware of what is required and the forms to be filed. You will need a certified copy of your marriage certificate for filing.

Jurisdiction and Residency

To file for divorce in Massachusetts, the reasons for the divorce must have occurred in Massachusetts, or one party must have been a state resident for at least one year. It is irrelevant where the other party resides. The petition is filed in the county where you and your spouse last lived together. Should your spouse be living in a different county, then it can be filed either in the Probate and Family Court of the county where either of you live. If either of you live in the county where you last lived together, it should be filed there. Consult with your joint petition lawyer regarding the applicable county to file the petition.

Separation Agreement and Grounds

When filing jointly, you are advising the court that you and your spouse have no dispute over the material issues affecting your marriage. Regarding grounds for or the basis for the dissolution, you and your spouse will complete an affidavit stating there has been an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” or that it cannot be saved. Although Massachusetts allows other grounds to be alleged, including abandonment, impotency, alcoholism, mental illness, incarceration for at least 5 years, and cruel and abusive treatment, you cannot have an uncontested divorce if this is the route you wish to take.

You also need to file a separation agreement that advises the court about how child custody and parenting time will be handled and the marital property divided. Marital property in Massachusetts includes that which was purchased or accumulated during the marriage, but may also include real or personal property that was accumulated before the marriage.

The separation agreement must be signed and notarized by both parties.

Affidavit of Care and Custody

This is a form indicating that there are minor children of the parties. It is a required document regardless if you and your spouse are in agreement over custody and parenting time.

Child Support

Another required form is the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet if one party is to pay child support to the other. The worksheet is used to calculate the support being paid based on the number of children and the income of the parties. You can deviate from the guidelines so long as the court agrees it meets the child’s needs and is still within the best interests of the children.

Affidavit of Absolute Divorce or Annulment

Although only used for statistical purposes and not part of the public record, this form is required in a divorce filing. It will eventually report the date of the final judgment. It lists your names and social security numbers, names and ages of the minor children, and other identifying information.

Financial Statements

Both parties need to submit complete financial statements. You must disclose all sources of income and assets. If your income exceeds $75,000 per year, you have to complete a long form version. Certain schedules are also required if you are self-employed, own your own business, or if you have rental income.

The form includes your gross income before deductions using weekly amounts. There are instructions on these calculations depending on if you are paid monthly, every 2 weeks or twice per month. If self-employed, supply a copy of last years’ tax returns.

The present value of real estate, motor vehicles, life insurance, retirement plans, and other assets must be noted. List all bank accounts, money market accounts, CDs and the account numbers.

Liabilities are also listed in detail including the dates when incurred and current amounts due. The amounts you pay will be on your weekly expenses column under “Weekly Payment.”

Have your lawyer for joint petition assist you in completing this and all other documents to ensure it will be accepted by the court and not delay the final hearing and judgment.

Time Period and Hearing

A hearing on a joint petition will be scheduled as soon as the Court’s schedule allows after the petition is filed. The judge will review all the documents filed and decide whether or not the child support, property distribution and responsibilities as outlined in the separation agreement are fair and reasonable to all.

If the court affirms the agreement, then the terms of the agreement are incorporated into the “Judgment of Divorce Nisi.” 90 days later, the divorce becomes absolute.

Consult the Law Office of Heather M. Ward

Heather M. Ward is a family law attorney from Boston who represents parties in dissolution and related family law matters. As a joint petition lawyer, Attorney Ward may save you time and money by finalizing an agreement quickly over the applicable issues, or she can work towards a final agreement if the parties are close to agreement.

Contact her at (617) 903-8955 for a consultation if you and your spouse wish to file a joint petition or if your dissolution is to be contested.