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How to end a marriage?

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Leo Tolstoy, "Ana Karenina", 1878

If you came to this page, looking for answers how to sever your marital relationship, then you are not alone. According to the most recent census, 39 percent of American marriages are ending in divorce. Several researches predicted that almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States in 2020 will end in divorce or separation, and estimate that approximately 60 percent of first marriages will end over the next 40 years. In contrast, less than 20 percent of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced. While those statistics may seem, on the surface, troublesome, they do not necessarily show a decline of marital values, at least not ¨sincerely held¨ ones. Before the 1970s, divorce was relatively difficult to get, as it usually required that one of the spouses was “at fault.” In Massachusetts grounds for “Fault divorce” were (and still, techically, are): adultery, desertion, habit of intoxication, cruel and abusive treatment, non-support, impotency (feel free to cringe), or a prison sentence over 5 years. While all those antiquated grounds are still technically “on the books”, nowadays you don’t need to show any of them, but all you need to assert and show is that your marriage is "irretrievably broken" for whatever reason, regardless of fault or lack thereof. Further, the stigma of divorce, cohabitation of unwed couples, and second marriages has diminished immensely. It is this author’s belief that the moral value of marriage has not declined, but the value of actual marital happiness has taken priority over staying wed at any cost.

So, I am going to assume that you have exhausted all avenues of preserving your marital happiness and have decided to put an end to your marriage. How do you that? Most people assume that they need to hire a lawyer, file for a divorce “against” their spouse, and bring the matter to court, where a judge would decide how will their property be divided, who and when will parent the kids, and who will pay whom child support or alimony. While this is, of course, one of the ways to approach matters, it tends to be the least time and cost-efficient way possible. Also, it tends to ruin your relationship with your ex more so than any other way. So what are your choices when staying married is no longer a viable option?

1. You can do it on your own:

This will be by far the least expensive and quickest way, which also has the benefit of giving you a complete control of your own decisions. It does require, however, that you communicate well with each other, and that you have a deep understanding of the legal workings of a marriage. There are economical, legal, psychological complexities of divorcing your spouse, that you may or may not have thought about, that you will need to address prior to filing. You will also need to formalize your agreement in writing and present it for approval by a judge.

For a step-by-step instruction of getting a no-fault divorce in Massachusetts, please consult

2. Each of you can hire a lawyer

That person will represent your individual interests in your divorce, and will advise you of the law. This may be a good option where there are issues are significant power imbalance, distrust, domestic violence, or under any other circumstances where you feel the need to have your legal rights protected. The main benefit of hiring legal representation is your lawyer’s undivided loyalty to you and you alone. The potential disadvantage is, aside from the high price tag, the inherently more adversarial nature of this type of conflict resolution. Even if you do hire lawyers, you will most likely end up settling your case anyway. You can hire a lawyer even before you decide to file for divorce, and even choose to have one during your mediation.

We recommend hiring a review lawyer to make sure that you are about to enter an agreement that is fair to you

3. You can let a judge decide the terms of your divorce

I won’t hesitate to tell you that this is the absolute worst way to get divorced and should be your last resort for multiple reasons. Litigating a contested divorce will generally require you to hire individual attorneys, to sit through multiple court dates, taking time off from work, incurring unpredictable costs in attorney’s fees and time. Further, the resolution of your marriage will be much slower. A contested divorce in Massachusetts takes about 14 months in the best case scenario but can take much longer, especially if one side is intentionally stalling the process in the hopes of getting more favorable terms, wearing down their spouse, etc. An uncontested divorce, where you have agreed on all terms of your separation, will be finalized in 90 to 120 days. Most importantly, however, when submitting your case to a judge, you give up the control over every term of your divorce that you have not previously agreed on, and will give that control to a complete stranger.

4. You can hire a mediator, come to an agreement, and file an uncontested divorce

It is a common misconseption that you need to agree on everything, in order to mediate your divorce. Another misconseption is that, if you do not agree on everything, you need to file a divorce complaint and bring the matter before a judge. In fact, none of the above is true. If you cannot agree on the terms of your divorce, or if you don´t know how to go about getting a divorce, you can chose to hire a mediator to help you resolve your disagreements. A mediator is not a judge: they will not tell you how to split your property and how to apportion spending time with your kids. After all, that is what we were trying to avoid, having a stranger tell you what to do. However, your mediator will help you understand: 1) what you need to agree on and 2) how to reach to a reasonable (for both of you) compromise. Once, you have come to a resolution, if you choose so, your mediator (who will also be a licensed attorney), will help you draft your agreement, as well as necessary court paperwork, and you will be on your way to being no longer married to each other.

If this last approach sounds appealing to you, feel free to book a free consulation with me.

Lina Wilson, Esq., divorce mediator and attorney

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