A divorce does not fully take effect until it becomes final or “absolute.” Many couples in Massachusetts are surprised to learn that the judge’s approval of their divorce does not make their divorce final. It is important to understand what needs to occur to finalize a divorce to avoid taking premature actions.
Massachusetts lawmakers opted to include a “nisi” period in divorce proceedings. Nisi is a Latin term that roughly translates to mean “unless.” When a court issues a decree nisi, it means the decree is set to take effect in the future unless some specific event occurs. If that event does not occur, the decree—in this case a divorce decree—automatically becomes final unless the parties change their minds.
So, when a judge grants a divorce in Massachusetts, that judge issues a Judgment of Divorce Nisi. The divorce will automatically become final when the nisi period expires. Generally, the Judgment Absolute is entered 90 days after the Judgment Nisi.
Waiting Periods in Addition to the Nisi Period
In an uncontested divorce, parties need to wait an additional 30 days from the date the judge signs papers at the hearing before the court issues the Divorce Nisi decree. That means couples filing for uncontested no fault divorce under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, §1A generally need to wait 120 days from the hearing date until their divorce becomes final.
When couples file for a contested divorce under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 208 §1B, the Judgment of Divorce Nisi enters immediately without the additional 30 day waiting period. However, this type of divorce has a mandatory minimum six-month waiting period between the time of filing the complaint and the hearing date.
Why Do You Have to Wait So Long For Your Divorce to Become Final?
Lawmakers established the Nisi period to give divorcing couples a chance to change their minds. If they decide during the Nisi period that they want to remain married, they can file a Motion to Dismiss and that ends the matter. The period can also give one spouse the opportunity to make sure the other spouse was truthful about property or debts allocated in the divorce.
What Happens During the Nisi Period?
During the waiting period between the Divorce Nisi and the Divorce Absolute, a couple remains legally married for tax purposes and generally for health insurance purposes as well. However, terms in the separation agreement such as alimony and child support take effect right away, before the divorce is final, so it is important to both parties to understand and abide by their obligations.
Get Help with Finalizing Your Divorce
Divorce in Massachusetts is a complicated procedure with long-term implications. It is important to understand your rights and duties at each stage of the proceedings so that you will be in the best position to move forward during and after the process. Advice from an experienced divorce attorney can make all the difference in your outcome.
At Koiles Pratt Family Law Group, we work to ensure that our clients have the information and guidance they need to make the right decisions for their family and their future. To talk to us about how we can assist, give us a call.