John L. Sullivan, ESQ - Attorney at Law


1. How does a divorce proceed in Probate and Family Court?

Generally, a Complaint for Divorce is filed when one spouse alleges that there has been a breakdown of the marriage.  Once the Complaint has been received by the Court, it will be assigned a number and a copy will be mailed back to the attorney, along with a Summons.  The Summons will be served by a Sheriff or a Constable to the other party.


2. What are the steps taken to a final divorce hearing?

Frequently, after the other party has received the Summons, a Motion for Temporary Orders is heard.  Once the orders are in place, a Pre-Trial Conference is next.  The final hearing is often the trial, if the parties are unable to resolve their differences.


3. What is a Pre-Trial Conference?

It is an opportunity for each party to present his or her side of the case to the Judge.  However, prior to that conference, the parent’s, if there are minor children involved, are required to take a certified parenting class.  Finally, parents and counsel must meet for a four-way meeting to discuss the case.


4. How does a Trial work?

The Plaintiff, or person who initiates the divorce, bears the burden of proving his or her case.  The Plaintiff presents witnesses and documents in support of the Plaintiff’s case, the Defendant presents his or her witnesses and documents.  The Judge will often request Proposed Findings of Fact.  The matter will be taken under advisement and decided weeks or months later.


5. How long does a divorce take from start to finish?

The answer to this depends first and foremost upon the calendar of the individual Judge.  Some Judge’s have a greater backlog than others.  Nevertheless, should parties be able to work out their differences, the divorce could be finalized within the year.


6. How does conciliation work?

Conciliation is a new program which has been implemented by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts.  It enables the parties and counsel to attempt a resolution with the assistance of an attorney in an expeditious and economic way.


7. How much should I pay, or receive, in child support?

The Child Support Guidelines are a straightforward mathematical formula which takes the income, health and dental insurance payments, child care costs, and pre-existing child support obligations all into effect in arriving at the specific child support payment.  For a Child Support Guideline sheet click here.


8. What happens if a party disobeys a Court Order?

Anytime one party violates a Court Order, the other can initiate a Complaint for Contempt.  Many times this is started because a parent refuses to pay child support.  In those instances, if the person filing the complaint is successful, the Judge has the discretion to award attorney’s fees and costs.


9. Should I hire an attorney?

One of the more well-known quotes about the wisdom of having a lawyer represent you for Court proceedings is: “He who serves as his own attorney has a fool for a client.”  While it is certainly possible to represent yourself, or be pro se, it is far wiser to seek the assistance of someone who regularly deals with the Courts.


10. If the father of my child and I were never married, may I receive retroactive child support?

Yes. Surprisingly, the Massachusetts Courts have been known, under certain circumstances, to award over fifteen years of retroactive child support, where the father knew that he had a son or daughter, but did little or nothing to provide support.


11. What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Legal custody gives the parent the right to make important and essential decisions affecting the future of a child.  These include, among others things; medical care, religious and educational decisions on behalf of the child, counseling and selection of college.