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Massachusetts Divorce Nisi Period

The Nisi Period in Massachusetts – what does that mean and when will my divorce be final?

When filing for divorce, many people want to know how long the process will take and when their divorce will be final. Unfortunately, without a crystal ball, your lawyer will not be able to provide an exact answer to this question. The timeframe for finalizing a divorce relies heavily on the facts of your case and the party’s ability to agree. Understandably, many people want their divorce to move along quickly so they can move on with their life. That said, it is important to realize that there are certain time restrictions built into the laws governing the divorce process that your attorney has no control over. These time restrictions may prevent your divorce from moving as quickly as you may like. An example of such restriction is called the “nisi period.”

What is the “Nisi Period”

The nisi period is a mandatory waiting period between the time a judge grants your divorce and when the divorce is finalized, also known as the Judgment Absolute. There are no exceptions to this mandatory waiting period, and it applies to all parties who file for divorce in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Depending on the type of divorce you filed, the nisi period will last either 90 days or 120 days.

Complaint for Divorce – 90-Day Nisi Period

In Massachusetts there are two ways to file for divorce. You can either file a Complaint for Divorce or a Joint Petition for Divorce. When a party files a Complaint for Divorce the nisi period lasts 90 days after receiving the courts approval. Although this is the shorter of the two nisi periods, when a Complaint for Divorce is filed there is an automatic 6 months waiting period before your divorce can be approved by a judge. If during that 6-month period the parties come to an agreement, they have the ability to convert the Complaint for Divorce to a Joint Petition. By converting your Complaint for Divorce to a Joint Petition you can obtain the courts approval without waiting for the 6 months to lapse on the front end, however, you are then subject to the 120-day nisi period required for Joint Petitions, explained below.

Joint Petition for Divorce – 120-Day Nisi Period

Under a Joint Petition for Divorce, once the parties have come to an agreement, the court will schedule a hearing to review your agreement. Typically, the court will approve the agreement at the hearing. After the hearing there is a 30-day waiting period before the 90-day nisi period begins. After the 90-day nisi period, if no action is taken, the Judgment Absolute will be entered automatically. Simply put, parties who file a Joint Petition for Divorce must wait a mandatory 120 days from the date of hearing for their divorce to be final.

Why Must I Wait

The only real effect the nisi period has, besides causing unnecessary confusion, is to give the divorcing parties one last chance to reconcile before their divorce becomes absolute. If the divorcing parties reconcile after the nisi period ends and a Judgment Absolute has already been entered, the parties will have to get remarried. Alternatively, if the parties reconcile during the nisi period prior to the Judgment Absolute being entered, the divorce would be dismissed, and the parties could go on being married. It is important to note that during the nisi period you are still legally married until your divorce is absolute. A marriage to another person during the nisi period is not legally binding and will be considered void. In Massachusetts it is well settled that, “a second marriage contracted during the interval between the judgment nisi and the judgment absolute is void.” Ross v. Ross, 385 Mass. 30, 35 (1982); Levanocky v. Levanocky, 311 Mass. 638, 561 (1942).

What Happens During the Nisi Period?

In short, nothing happens during the nisi period. Once the judge approves the agreement entered by the parties, all aspects of the agreement, including support, child custody and property division go into effect. All that is left for the parties to do is simply wait for the 90 or 120-day nisi period to expire. The nisi period is not an opportunity for the parties to make changes to the agreement. Once the judge approves the agreement it is considered final. Only in very rare situations, where a party can prove the agreement was signed based on fraudulent representations, might a court consider making changes to an already approved agreement. Getting your agreement changed after the court has approved it can be very difficult, therefore it is very important to understand all your rights before signing a separation agreement and seeking approval from the court.

For more information about divorce in Massachusetts, contact us today.

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