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Divorce FAQ



  Table of Contents

  1. How much is a divorce going to cost me?
  2. What is a "retainer" and why do lawyers need one?
  3. Can I get a Massachusetts divorce?
  4. What is the divorce process like?
  5. Can you represent both me and my spouse?
  6. How long does it take to get a divorce?
  7. Can I get a divorce if my spouse doesn't want it?
  8. What is a "no-fault" divorce?
  9. What should I look for in choosing a divorce lawyer?

How much is a divorce going to cost me?

The answer to this question depends completely upon the level of conflict between yourself and your spouse.  Our firm charges by the hour at $225.00 per hour, and the more of a lawyer's time you use, the more the divorce will cost.  In the circumstance where the parties have already agreed on the major issues of child custody, child support, alimony and property division, and a lawyer is needed mainly to draft the separation agreement, your total bill will likely be approximately $2000.  The vast majority of divorce cases in our experience settle short of a trial, and will cost a party from $3000 to $7000 in attorney fees.  Cases which are highly contested and hotly litigated, cases which involve substantial and complex assets and any case which goes to trial are all likely to result in attorney fees to each party of over $10,000.  Keep in mind that no attorney can guarantee what the legal fees in a given case will be. 

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What is a "retainer" and why do lawyers need one?

A "retainer" is an amount of money paid by the client to a lawyer at the time when the client hires the lawyer.  The retainer is placed into a client funds account, which is separate from the lawyer's own bank account.  As the lawyer does work on the client's case, he or she will bill the client for this work at an hourly rate.  When a bill is sent, the money to pay it comes not from the client, but is taken out of the client funds account.  Thus, a retainer is in essence pre-paid legal fees.


A lawyer needs a retainer because once the lawyer tells a Court that he or she is representing a client, a judge's permission is necessary before a lawyer can stop representing the client in that case.  Sometimes, judges will not let a lawyer leave a case even if the client has stopped paying the lawyer.  A retainer minimizes the risk that a lawyer will be put into this situation.

The size of retainers requested by our firm varies with the level of complexity of each case and the likelihood of litigated disputes.  

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Can I get a Massachusetts divorce?

If you have lived in Massachusetts for one year prior to filing for divorce, generally speaking you are eligible to get a Massachusetts divorce.  However, if your spouse does not live in Massachusetts at the time you file for divorce, you should consult a lawyer to discuss under what circumstances a Massachusetts court will order alimony, child support or property division against a non-resident spouse.


If you were married in Massachusetts but neither you nor your spouse currently lives here, it is unlikely that you can file for divorce in Massachusetts.  You should consult a lawyer for advice on your specific situation.  

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What is the divorce process like?

Divorce is never an easy process.  However, there is an "easier" way and a "harder" way to obtain a divorce.  The easier way involves the parties negotiating a separation agreement, which is a contract dealing with all matters of property division, alimony, child custody and child support.  The parties work out any differences they may have by negotiating between themselves or by having their lawyers negotiate for them.  The lawyers then draft an agreement for the parties to review and sign.  After the separation agreement is signed, both parties file a "Joint Petition" for divorce, asking the Court to approve their agreement and grant them a divorce.  This way, the Court is involved only at the end of the process.  The divorce hearing is generally short, and the judge simply makes sure that the agreement is "fair and reasonable" and that both parties understand and mean to be bound by the agreement.


The harder way involves one of the parties filing a "Complaint for Divorce".  The other party is served with the complaint, and either party may ask the Court to decide on temporary alimony, child custody, child support or other matters through the filing of a "motion".  Six months after the filing of a divorce complaint, either party can request a trial date.  A trial is when both parties and their lawyers present evidence to a judge by way of documents and testimony from the parties and other witnesses.  The judge will then make final decisions on property division, alimony, child support and child custody.  Even if a divorce starts out with a Complaint for Divorce, the parties are still able to turn the process into the "separation agreement" process if they are able to reach agreement on the issues prior to a trial.

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Can you represent both me and my spouse?

No.  Because of the conflict of interest between divorcing spouses (even those that maintain a cordial relationship), a lawyer cannot represent both parties.  If you are asking this question, you may want to consider Divorce Mediation.  If you and your spouse have already reached agreement on all aspects of your divorce, we recommend that one party retain an attorney to draft the separation agreement and other documents, and that the other spouse at his or her option can retain an attorney simply to review the agreement.

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How long does it take to get a divorce?

Generally, as long as it takes for both parties to sign a separation agreement, plus two to six weeks to schedule a court date.  The divorce will become final either three or four months after the court date.  If a case goes all the way to trial, a divorce can take as long as two years or more.

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Can I get a divorce if my spouse doesn't want it?

Yes.  Although an uncooperative spouse can make the divorce process longer and more expensive for you, he or she cannot prevent a divorce.

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What is a "no-fault" divorce?

In Massachusetts, a "no-fault" divorce" is a divorce based upon an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage".  This is the most common grounds for divorce.  Fault divorces are rare, but the most usual fault grounds are cruel and abusive treatment, adultery and abandonment.  

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What should I look for in choosing a divorce lawyer?

First, you want your attorney to be experienced in the specialized field of divorce law.  It is also helpful if your attorney has practiced extensively in the Court where your case will be heard because it is important to be familiar with the particular judges who may be involved with your case.  Second, you should feel comfortable working with your attorney, he or she should be responsive to your questions and concerns and your attorney should always return your phone calls promptly.  Lastly, you should choose an attorney who is skilled at negotiating a settlement, but also has the ability to aggressively litigate if that is necessary to protect your rights. 

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Revised: November 30, 2015.


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