Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) in Family Law Cases

Whether you are going through a divorce or need to establish legal guardianship or paternity, family law can be complicated to navigate without a lawyer. The outcome can change your life forever.

At the law firm of Linda Sternberg, Esquire, our attorneys will discuss all your unique concerns in person — but we also understand the importance of immediate answers. Below are some answers to commonly asked family law questions. For more information, call our Boston office at 617-454-4705 to speak with us one-on-one, or you can reach us online.

How long does a divorce take in Massachusetts?

If you and your spouse agree to the terms of your divorce, including but not limited to child custody, a parenting plan, support payments, and the division of assets, it is considered uncontested, and can be resolved with only one court appearance. Once your agreement and related pleadings are filed in court, a hearing is scheduled, and the divorce will be final 120 days after the hearing.

Contested divorces, however, are more complicated, and will generally take longer as the court puts contested divorces on a 14-month track. Depending on how contentious you and/or your spouse are, the process may take longer, and you will need to appear in court multiple times. If the contested divorce ends with a trial, the judgment will be final 90 days after it is entered by the court. If the divorce litigation is resolved by agreement, the judgment will be final 90 days after the hearing at which the court approves the agreement.

What are the grounds for divorce in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, you need a reason to get divorced, as defined by state law. The most common reason is the "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage." These cases are considered no-fault divorces, in which one or both spouses do not want the marriage to continue.

Massachusetts also allows people to file divorces on fault grounds. These include adultery, drug abuse, domestic violence or abuse, impotency, desertion and the refusal to financially support the family. If you can prove any of these grounds, you may file for a fault divorce. You may still file on no-fault grounds even if you have experienced one of the fault grounds.

What happens to our debt when we divorce?

Debt is viewed just like assets are during a divorce. That means all debts will be divided fairly and equitably between spouses as part of the division of assets.

Why do I need to establish paternity?

There are a number of benefits to establishing paternity for both parents and children. For children, it gives them two legal parents, a right to inheritance, access to both parent's medical insurance and eligibility for certain federal benefits. For the father, it gives him a right to seek custody and parenting time. Establishing paternity will provide both parents with the ability to request child support payments and other forms of support from one another and can provide both parents with the ability to enforce their respective rights in the courts.

Why do I need to establish a guardianship of a minor child?

Legal guardians of minors have many of the same responsibilities as biological parents, making key life decisions for a child's care, education, health and more. If a child is not your own, but the child's parents are not available to care for the child, establishing a guardianship allows you to obtain custody and make the decisions that are vital to their everyday life. A guardianship of a minor ends on the child's 18th birthday.

Why do I need to establish guardianship of an adult?

If an adult over the age of 18 is unable to make decisions regarding his or her own care due to a disability, physical or mental illness, or other incapacity, obtaining guardianship will enable you to make decisions concerning his or her medical care and living accommodations.

Why do I need to establish conservatorship of an individual?

A conservatorship will enable you to handle a child's funds in the event of a personal injury settlement, or if there is no parent available to care for a child's finances. If an elderly, intellectually disabled or otherwise incapacitated adult is unable to make financial decisions, the court can appoint a conservator to handle all his or her financial affairs or limit the appointment to a specific transaction.