Today, over a year after we started the divorce process, my co-parent and I had our divorce hearing in court — remotely, on Zoom. I’m writing this article now to explain what the entire journey was like from start to finish, because this is the article that I wish that I had in order to know what to expect. I’m hoping this story might help others understand the path.
First, a bit of context. Every divorce process and hearing is unique, depending on your relationship, finances, children, location, judge, and so on. Here, I am sharing my experience of an amicable, collaborative divorce (with kids involved), and my legal experience interacting with the Suffolk County, Boston, court. Other people’s stories may be utterly different, but each account provides useful information. Let’s start from the beginning.
(Note: I have chosen to illustrate this article with photos I took at the art park called Randyland in Pittsburgh, PA. Why? Because, first, it was a great vacation that I took with my co-parent, and highlights the many positive times we had together over our ten years of marriage. Second, Randyland is a non-traditional version of a person’s home. In many ways, divorce is the same.)
The Divorce Process
1. Picking Lawyers.
Over a year ago, my co-parent and I grappled with the question, “Should we get a divorce?” We ultimately decided that it would be the healthiest option, and could be done in a responsible and positive way to make sure our two children were supported throughout. We began the search for lawyers (even in amicable divorces, you’re not allowed to share one counsel), and launched the paperwork process. For us, this commenced in February of 2022.
Tip: If you are doing an amicable divorce and are able to collaborate, it is key to select lawyers who self-identify as “collaborative.” Unfortunately, adversarial, non-collaborative lawyers may purposely stir the pot and pit you against your spouse in order to rack up more billable hours.
In contrast, collaborative lawyers are trained in and committed to being as efficient and fair to all as possible. To keep everything amicable, this time in the divorce process is also an excellent time to read constructive divorce books and work with therapists.
2. Divorce Documents.
For divorce in Massachusetts, the major documents to complete are the Financial Statement and the Separation Agreement. The former is an extremely detailed account of every single one of your income sources, assets, expenses, debts, and so on. Though it would be nice if lawyers could help with the financial forms, the only person who can do 95% of that legwork is you, so expect to put in many days to figure those out. (Divorce takes lots of time and money!) Then have the lawyer look over it for edits.
The Separation Agreement is a long contract in which you and your former spouse decide on a huge range of topics — from the division of assets, to custody schedules, to joint credit cards, to your plan on kids’ college tuition in the distant future. My co-parent and I used a mediator (happily, covered by his employer) to create the draft of this, and followed this checklist.
Because we had put a great deal of work into it over the months prior, both with our therapist (who was covered by insurance) and together, the mediator sessions for our Separation Agreement only took about 4 hours. For us, we completed this stage in August of 2022. During this time we also followed the recommended procedure for telling our kids about the divorce, and began asset division and setting up the second home.
Tip: To save money, do document draft legwork on your own, or with a professional who is covered by your insurance or your employer, whenever possible. For example, have an initial short meeting with your lawyer, then work on the Separation Agreement with your spouse (and a couples therapist if they’re willing to help) for several weeks, then return to your lawyer for a quick check-in, and repeat.
Once you have detailed notes, bring in a mediator to do the major drafting of the agreement, before bringing it back to both lawyers to revise. Lawyers charge for every single email and phone call, so keep a Google Document where you compile questions to ask in bulk.
3. Filing the Divorce Paperwork.
Once the Financial Forms and Separation Agreement have been approved and signed by all, along with several other shorter documents that the lawyers prepare (ex: the Affidavit), the paperwork is filed with the court. In our case, my lawyer was able to file electronically for us. Then it becomes a waiting game. For us, we reached this stage in November of 2022.
4. Making Edits Required by the Court.
Almost everyone I know has had their initial divorce paperwork rejected at least once by the court — usually for nitpicky things. In our case, despite robust collaboration and four pairs of eyes on the documents, our paperwork was rejected twice — the last time for FIFTEEN separate issues.
The first rejection was for a foolish error that our eight eyeballs should have caught, but somehow didn’t: on page 1 of the 50 pages we’d sweated over, our date of marriage was incorrect. Argh! Then, when one of our lawyers went in to fix it, they typed “July 94th, 2012” instead of the correct date. Luckily, my co-parent caught the typo! We revised and submitted again.
Tip: You may be paying your lawyers so much that you expect them to catch every mistake, but they are human, too. In order to avoid issues, make sure that you are doing due diligence in triple-checking all documents, too.
Our second rejection enumerated fifteen separate issues that the court had found in our paperwork on their second perusal. The required edits ranged from typographical issues (“It is not permitted to leave any blank lines. Write a zero instead”), to confusions (“This bank account was not mentioned” — when it actually was), to legitimate suggestions (“There are two different value amounts for the shared car on each party’s financial form”).
Luckily, despite the requested edits, we still received a court date assignment in this letter. For us, the letter came in January of 2023, and the court date was for March. We began the revision process.
5. Sticking to Deadlines.
So… somewhere between January and March, wires got crossed. I thought my lawyer was working on the edits. My co-parent thought his lawyer was. It turned out that my lawyer had indeed made edits and sent them to my co-parent’s lawyer in January, but the lawyer missed the email, and because I wasn’t CCed, I’d missed it too. Follow-up didn’t happen, and thus in late February, I wrote an email to all parties… and we all realized, with a gasp, that the ball had been dropped.
This then led to an insane sprint to try to get all documents revised and signed within 24 hours, as it turned out that the deadline to preserve our court hearing was the very next day. We all banded together — racing across town with folders and notarized signatures — and got the filing submitted with TWO minutes to spare. Sheesh! This occurred for us in early March of 2023.
Major, major tip: DO NOT BE AFRAID TO FOLLOW UP with your counsel about timing. You may think your lawyers are pushing everything forward on the timeline, but they have many cases to juggle, and balls can be dropped, despite the best intentions. I am still kicking myself for not sending an inquiry email in late January about the status of our edits! This is your life, and worries about “Not wanting to bother people” need to be secondary for a time in order to stay on track.
6. Divorce Court Hearing… by Zoom!
The day arrived! It seems Massachusetts is doing a mix of Zoom and in-person divorce hearings these days, and we were assigned a Zoom hearing, for which I was thankful.
I had gotten the tip to dress up, so I wore a formal flowered shirt and necklace that had been given to me by a family member for support. Making sure my lighting was good and background clean, I logged in right at 9:22am for our 9:30am hearing. My lawyer’s proxy was already there in the Zoom room (my lawyer had a previous commitment, so sent trusted staff instead) — but so there were 20 other strangers in the Zoom room, too! Huh? What was going on?
Fifteen minutes passed with us 20 strangers just staring at each other on boxes on the screen in silence (well, silence except for the fellow who didn’t get the “Mute Yourself on Zoom” memo, and was chewing breakfast and watching TV). Finally, that same man blurted out, “I have noooo idea what is happening.”
“You and me both, sir,” I thought to myself.
At 9:45am, a court clerk popped into the Zoom room and explained that all 20 of us had been assigned to the same 9:30am court slot, and she would now push us all into the waiting room, and bring us in to see the judge one by one. Oh!
My screen went white except for the “Waiting Room” label, and the waiting began. And continued. And continued.
At first, I remained erect in my chair, starting at the screen like a good pupil. After about 15 minutes, I raced to the bathroom, then raced back — but we were still waiting. 30 minutes in, I figured I should do some work. I pulled out my art supplies and began doing sketches for my educational art website, keeping one eye on the screen.
One hour of waiting in, I got a delivery of groceries and put them away, still staring at the computer as I popped the broccoli into the fridge. 90 minutes in, I got a snack and did a dance to the song “Watershed” to keep the blood flowing. (Oh, that immortal line: “Every five years or so, I look back on my life, and I have a good laugh!”) Two hours in, I responded to texts from friends who were checking in, explaining to them that I was still in the waiting room at 11:30am.
I began to worry that I would have to reschedule the client I had an appointment with at 1:45pm. Tip: Try not to schedule anything for the day of a divorce court hearing. One never knows how long the process might take.
Then at 11:36am, the judge and everyone else in our group appeared on the screen! We were asked to all introduce ourselves, and to raise our right hand to swear to tell the truth. The judge apologized for the long wait. I vowed to be as polite, succinct, and cooperative as possible, since it had already been a long day for everyone.
Then the judge asked me if I affirmed that we were married on July 12, 2012. I replied that, er, sorry, but the correct date was otherwise. My counsel chimed in that, respectfully, the judge appeared to be reading the old version of our thrice-edited paperwork. Two minutes of shuffling later, the judge had the correct document in hand.
The judge then proceed to ask me a series of simple questions as she flipped through the pages. Did I sign this agreement of my free will? Was there any chance of marriage reconciliation, or were there irrevocable differences? Had I honestly disclosed all of my assets? Did I find the agreement fair?
To the last question, I replied, that, “Yes, I find it very fair. We spent many months collaboratively working on it together, for the benefit of our children, Your Honor.” She smiled at this. She asked the same questions to my co-parent.
At 11:43am — exactly seven minutes after the hearing had started, the judge declared, “This agreement seems fair and honest. Your divorce is approved.” Ok! We all signed off, and my co-parent and I exchanged affirming texts.
7. The Divorce Nici Waiting Period.
The hearing is the massive hurdle — the rest is just waiting, and that waiting period is called the “Divorce Nici.” In Massachusetts, you must wait 30 days until you get the Judgement of Divorce, then 90 days for the divorce to be finalized — a total of 120 days before everything is official, and you are no longer married. Once this is complete, we will be able to finalize related documentation around insurance (ex: we can no longer share dental insurance after divorce, but we can share health insurance), home ownership, and so on.
The Divorce Process, in Sum
This has been a very long road — and one that started many years before the official commencement of paperwork a year ago. If you’re wondering what to say to someone who just got their divorce approved, I’ll direct you to my full article, “What to Say to Someone Getting Divorced” to highlight that it is a momentous, yet potentially very hopeful and healthy choice that was the result of extensive thought and work. In my case, you’re welcome to say: “Have a wonderful launch to your next chapter.”
So what about you? Have you been through the divorce process? Since each person’s is so very different, I’m very curious to hear how yours was similar to, or differed from, mine that was explained here. Do share!
Want to continue reading? See all of my divorce articles here.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!