In Massachusetts, a “contested” (1B) divorce becomes final 90 days after the divorce hearing. An “uncontested” (1A) divorce becomes final 120 days after the divorce hearing. You are therefore no longer married on the 91st or 121st day after your hearing.
Use the MA nisi waiting period calculator at the bottom of this page to calculate the exact date when your divorce will be final or “absolute.”
Attorney Rueschemeyer mediates divorces on Zoom for ALL cities, towns, and courts in Massachusetts.
Uncontested cases can take 3-6 months, start to finish (plus the Nisi period). Attorney Rueschemeyer typically completes a draft of all court documents within a day of your first meeting and finalizes all documents with a day of the second meeting, typically one to three weeks after the first meeting. Most of this 3-6 month time frame is waiting for a hearing.
Contested cases could theoretically be completed in a year, and the state aspires to complete them in 14 months (plus Nisi period). In practice, 18 months would be a fast divorce, and many take years to resolve.
The legal term “nisi” means “taking effect only after certain, specified conditions are met.” The condition that has to be met for a “Judgment of Divorce Nisi” in Massachusetts to take effect is a waiting period of 90 days. Even though the judge may sign your divorce agreement, the judgment or divorce decree does not take effect for 90 days.
The nisi period is 90 days, but the TOTAL waiting period depends on the kind of divorce you do. The Judgment of Divorce Nisi is issued on the hearing date in contested cases, so the total waiting period is 90 days. A contested case, or “1B” case, is where one party files a Complaint for Divorce and the judge decides the terms of the divorce.
In uncontested cases, the judge signs papers on your hearing date, but the Judgment of Divorce Nisi is not entered until 30 days after the hearing date. Thus, there is an initial 30-day waiting period before the judgment is entered, and then there is a 90-day nisi waiting period, for a total of 120 days. An uncontested divorce, or “1A” case, is one in which the spouses work together and come to agreement on the terms of divorce and file a Joint Petition for Divorce. See MA General Laws Chapter 208, Section 21.
Many contested (1B) cases turn into uncontested (1A) cases at the last minute before a hearing, when spouses or lawyers come to an agreement before they see the judge. If your divorce starts out as a contested (1B) divorce but then turns into an uncontested (1A) divorce, you will have a 120-waiting period until your divorce is final or “absolute.”
Yes. In Massachusetts you still count as married for the 90-day “nisi” period, after your judgment of divorce is entered. Even though the judge grants you a divorce on your hearing date, you are still technically married for 90 (contested cases) or 120 (uncontested cases) days after the hearing date.
At the same time that you are still married, the substantive decisions in your separation agreement, e.g., regarding child support, alimony, and division of assets, take effect immediately when the judge signs your papers. On the one hand, the court says you are still married, but on the other hand, the court says you must start following the orders in the divorce agreement.
The divorce nisi period has several practical implications for a divorcing couple:
First, since you are still technically married for 3-4 months after your divorce hearing, you cannot remarry until the last day of the 90 or 120 day waiting period is over.
Second, the waiting period may affect your tax filing status in the year following your divorce hearing. If your divorce hearing is October 15th, for example, the nisi period will extend into the next calendar year. So even though you separated your financial affairs in October, you still count as married into January or February of the next year, so you must file taxes as “marrried” for that next year, even though you think of yourself as long since divorced. You can, of course, file the next year as “married-filing separately.”
Third, since you are technically still married during the nisi period, it should be easier to stay on a partner’s health insurance in those cases where the health insurance extends only to married partners.
You will not know. The court does not send you any documents or confirmation that your divorce is final or absolute. That makes the date calculator at the bottom of this page particularly useful, since you can calculate when you will no longer be married. In uncontested cases, the court mails you the Judgment of Divorce Nisei about 30 days after your hearing.
If you need proof that you are divorced, you need to request a copy of your Certificate of Divorce Absolute, which will look like this. You can do this for $20 after your nisi period has passed, using this Request for Copies form. If you need evidence of your divorce before the nisi period is passed, you can also get a certified copy of the first page of your Judgment of Divorce Nisi for $20 using the same form. See this mass.gov court records webpage for further information.
The 90-day waiting period was born out of political compromises in the Massachusetts legislature in the mid-1970’s. Massachusetts approved no-fault divorce beginning December 30, 1975. Before that, a spouse had to prove abandonment, adultery, drug addiction, abuse, etc. in order to get divorced. When no-fault divorce was being considered by the state legislature, some political interest groups thought that it made divorce too fast and easy. Requiring a 90-day waiting period was a compromise to appease those parties.
The nisi period does have one, extremely-rarely-used function. During the 90-day nisi period, if a couple decides they do not want to divorce, they can file a joint petition with the court and their divorce case will be vacated and dismissed. They will remain married. I have done over 1600 divorce mediation cases, and only 4 couples have taken this step to withdraw their divorce during the nisi period.
The primary result of the Massachusetts nisi period requirement is to create confusion and uncertainty among divorcing couples (are we still married or not?) and make it more difficult for them to explain their status to banks, insurance companies, and other institutions.
To calculate the first date that you will no longer be legally married, answer the following two questions: