A divorce, like any other civil action, can take months to resolve or for a final judgment to issue. While it may certainly appear to be in the best interests of both parties in a divorce to conclude the proceedings as quickly as possible to save on legal fees and to get on with their individual lives, there are parties who are in no hurry and have no desire to expedite the process.
For instance, one party, who may have considerable financial resources or a particular desire for vengeance, may want to pressure the other party into agreeing to his/her position by stalling, raising new issues, asking for extensions in discovery, contesting matters that were once agreed to, or claiming wrongdoing or misconduct by the other. Fortunately, there are ways that you and your divorce lawyer can speed up the process, though you need to be aware that the process has inherent delays that cannot be avoided.
Whether you file a Joint Petition for Divorce or a Complaint for Divorce in a contested matter, you have to wait for a hearing date and for the final judgment to issue and become absolute. Once the hearing is concluded, another 30-days may pass before the Judgment for Divorce Nisi is issued followed by a 90-day waiting period before it becomes final and absolute. During this waiting or Nisi period, you may not remarry or consider yourself divorced.
If the matter is contested, then you will confront delays that can stretch the process out for many months to well over a year. It will be from 6-9 months before a hearing is scheduled, if at all, that can be delayed if one party wants extensions to respond to discovery or for experts to testify or due to other matters. If custody is an issue, there is an investigation that needs to be conducted and a report to be issued. Once the hearing is scheduled, the trial can take days. When concluded, the judge will have 30-days to issue a Judgment for Divorce Nisi followed by the requisite 90-days before the judgment is final.
Ways to Speed Up the Process
If you are experiencing delays in a contested matter because your spouse is stalling or asking for numerous delays, your divorce lawyer can expedite the process in a few ways:
- Begin discovery immediately. Your lawyer has the right to have the other party respond to written interrogatories, undergo a deposition, and to produce documents. Although the responding party can reciprocate as well as ask for extensions to respond which must be granted out of courtesy at least once, the process can be burdensome and can prompt the stalling party to agree to or compromise on certain issues more readily.
- Get the other party to mediation. Massachusetts law requires all divorce lawyers to discuss mediation or alternative dispute resolution with their clients. Mediation is often a tool that can resolve many contested issues once an independent and experienced mediator considers the arguments of both sides and urges the parties to negotiate and compromise.
- File motions. In a litigated divorce, your attorney can file a motion asking the court to set a hearing date. This can set the discovery schedule and force the court to schedule a Pre-Trial Conference and get the parties to mediation. A motion called Domestic Relations Procedure Rule 16 will force the parties into court to discuss with the judge what issues are still in dispute and how they may be resolved. Issues at the Rule 16 hearing include:
- Possibility of settlement
- Simplifying the disputed issues
- Obtaining admissions and allowing the introduction of documents into evidence without unnecessary offers of proof or the laying of foundation for admissibility
- Limiting expert testimony or the number of experts
- Possible referral of certain matters before a master
- Agreement on damages
If the parties are not prohibited from contact, they can communicate with one another and save legal costs by suggesting resolutions. Otherwise, using mediation or other alternative dispute resolution measures can help speed up the process, be less costly, and without the delays inherent in litigation.
Consult Divorce Lawyer Heather M. Ward
Divorce lawyer Heather M. Ward is dedicated to resolving family law matters as expeditiously as possible without sacrificing the best interests of her clients. Call her today at (617) 903-8955 to schedule a free consultation about all of your family law matters.