Home Divorce What is the Cooling off Period in a Massachusetts Divorce?

What is the Cooling off Period in a Massachusetts Divorce?

muccilegal February 8, 2024

The cooling off period, also called the waiting period, or “nisi” period, is the time between the date a judge or court has agreed that you can have a divorce and actually having the divorce finalized. The length of the cooling off period depends on the type of divorce involved. It is either 90 or 120 days between the initial “divorce nisi” and the final “divorce absolute”.

What is the reason for a cooling off period?

Until the divorce has been finalized, i.e. has become a divorce absolute at the end of the cooling off period, you and your spouse are legally still married, despite a court agreeing that you have the right to end your marriage. Basically, there isn’t much to do in this period, except just wait for it to be over. You can’t legally marry someone else during this period, because your marriage hasn’t yet ended. So, what’s the point of it?

Basically, the reason why the state has mandated this time period in the divorce process is to allow any second thoughts or changes in the basis behind settlement agreements to be resolved.

Changing your mind while waiting for an uncontested divorce to finalize

cooling off periods allow for a change of heart

For example, let’s say a couple has decided that they are no longer compatible, but have worked out how to divide their marital assets and what to do about looking after their children once the divorce has gone through. They have filed a petition for an uncontested divorce (also called a 1a divorce) with the Family Law Court. To do this, they must come up with a comprehensive settlement agreement which outlines why they are ending their marriage (irreconcilable breakdown) and how they have arranged their finances and ongoing custody and welfare of their children. The petition is successful and the court agrees to a decree nisi with a subsequent 120 day waiting period before it can be finalized.

During that time, the couple has second thoughts about ending their marriage and, after counseling, decides to stay married. The divorce is then quite simply dismissed. If it wasn’t for the mandatory waiting period, the couple would have already been divorced and would have to get married again.

Changing a settlement agreement while waiting for a contested divorce to finalize

Cooling off periods allow for a change in a settlement agreement

To take a second example, let’s say that a couple has decided to get a divorce, but cannot agree about child custody and the level of child support each should contribute. They have tried mediation and each spouse has its own attorney but they just cannot agree about the terms of separation. They decide to file a complaint for divorce, i.e. file for a contested, or no-fault 1b, divorce. This means that the court will make a decision about the terms of their divorce for them. The couple must abide by any temporary arrangements after the divorce is finalized. The divorce is agreed to and a 90 day waiting period then follows.

During this nisi period, one spouse discovers that the other spouse has been deliberately misleading about how much money she or he has, in order to reduce the amount of child support that must be paid after the divorce goes through. The spouse’s attorney then provides the new information to the court which decides that this is enough to alter the terms of the divorce. Because the change happens during the waiting period, the terms can be altered without the complications that might have arisen if the divorce had been finalized already.

The Massachusetts divorce process takes time!

Ideally, every divorce would be uncontested and the couple who has decided to divorce has done so with little rancor and have worked through the often complicated arrangements that must be made before they can live separate lives again. Of course, not all divorces are that amicable. The very reasons why divorces are sought is because of disagreements and sometimes mistrust between the two spouses.

Even though the waiting, or cooling off, period is a maximum of 120 days (for an uncontested divorce), the whole divorce process will actually take longer than this. This is because it can take time to work out a suitable settlement agreement or thrash out the differences before eventually asking the court to make a decision. This is all before the court is involved at all.

For an uncontested divorce, the separation agreement, once it has been prepared, must be notarized before filing it with the court. The court will then schedule a hearing, which could be days, weeks or even months later, depending how busy the court is. Usually, the court will approve the divorce after the separation agreement has been accepted at the hearing. There is then a 30 day period before a divorce nisi is granted. The term “nisi” means “unless” which means that the following nisi period of 90 more days allows for possible changes, especially a rethink about ending the marriage. These two periods add up to the total 120 day waiting period mandated for an uncontested divorce.

A contested divorce could take much longer despite the actual 90 day waiting period as this only starts once the court has made a decision about the terms of the divorce. This decision may take several months or even years as each spouse’s point of view must be considered and evidence to support each spouse’s point of view must be assessed by the court. There may be one or more hearings and a trial may be scheduled if there really is a very contentious situation.

The cooling off period as a safety valve

To wrap up what has been said about Massachusetts’ divorce process, the cooling off period acts like a safety valve. It does mean the often stressful process of divorce is somewhat longer at a time when most couples just want to move on, but allows for changes to the divorce agreement or even having a divorce at all to be made without making the process even more stressful.

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