Before assuming you have no choice other than a traditional court-based action, it makes sense to consider a less adversarial method of resolving your case outside of the courtroom, such as mediation or collaborative divorce.
If you cannot resolve your issues or one spouse refuses to consider other methods of dispute resolution, then your case will be a litigated or court-based divorce. The experienced Massachusetts family law attorneys at Cunnally Law Group, LLC routinely represent clients in contested matters in Norfolk, Bristol, Middlesex, Worcester, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties, including divorce, modification, and contempt actions.
Here are some of the main steps in a Contested Matter in Massachusetts:
1. This process officially begins when one person files a Complaint
with the appropriate
Probate and Family Court. The person filing the complaint is the Plaintiff. The complaint is then delivered or “served” upon the other spouse, who is the Defendant, along with a summons and some other initial paperwork, including a track assignment notice which specifies what judge has been assigned to the case and in a divorce action, a copy of Rule 411, a financial restraining order that automatically goes into effect.
2. The Defendant (person who did not initiate the complaint) or more likely their lawyer, then answers the complaint and forwards a copy of the answer to the Court and to the Plaintiff’s attorney.
3. This portion of the case is known as the pre-trial phase, and is the longest phase of a typical case. For many cases, this time is also referred to as the discovery period because each side collects the pertinent documents and information required to prepare for trial. Discovery can be time-consuming and expensive. Discovery methods include exchanging documents, depositions (in person questioning outside of court), interrogatories (questions that must be answered in writing), and Requests for Admissions. Other discovery techniques are available, although less common.
4. Temporary Orders & Motions – Attorneys frequently file motions with the Court. Motions are written requests that are filed with the court, and then a hearing takes place to see if the Judge will allow them. There are many types of motions available, but a motion for temporary orders is the most common. Temporary orders set forth certain orders while the cases is pending, but not yet finalized. In temporary orders, attorneys may request that a certain amount of child support be paid, or for the Court to establish or modify a parenting schedule.
5. If child custody is being disputed, the Court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem, or GAL, to conduct an investigation regarding children’s issues, with a goal of completing a report regarding custody and visitation. The GAL will likely interview parents, teachers, other caregivers, and the children.
6. Pre-trial Conference – If a case remains unsettled, a Pre-trial Conference is held by the Court. Attorneys will submit a Pre-trial Memorandum before the conference, outlining what issues are in dispute and what has been tentatively agreed to, if anything. The Pre-trial conference is a chance for each side to get some feedback on the contested issues from the Judge. It is common that many cases settle at this time, or shortly thereafter.
7. Trial – Less than 10% of cases reach this stage in the process. For those cases that cannot be settled, a trial will take place before a Judge (no jury). There will be testimony from witnesses and experts, and then the Judge will issue a decision. The Judge frequently issues their decision a number of weeks after the trial date.
For more information, please contact Cunnally Law Group, LLC, Massachusetts Family Law attorneys at (508) 346-3805.