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Massachusetts Divorce: Does It Matter Who Files First?

Filing for divorce is an emotional, high-stakes decision—which is why a lot of spouses have a hard time thinking tactically about their divorce. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the turbulent emotions and symbolism of filing for divorce, but the sad truth is that divorce is a legal maneuver, and it needs to be treated that way.

The advantage of getting a lawyer early in the process is your ability to have an objective advisor who can direct your case in a strategic and aggressive manner. Today’s blog discusses one of the first moves our firm makes for our divorce clients: filing first.

When it comes to divorce in Massachusetts, it matters who files first.

Why File for Divorce First?

It Shows That You’re Serious.

Because the “race for the courthouse,” as callous as it might seem, has real consequences for your divorce. Many couples discuss divorce well before either of them chooses to file—sometimes because one party thinks the other one isn’t serious about splitting up. Filing first shows that you’re not bluffing and you’re not having a “blowup.” It means that you’re doing this for real, and you mean business.

It Allows You to Be Proactive.

It also means you get to be front-footed and proactive. If you file first, your attorney and your team of experts, specialists, and investigators are already working on your behalf. This keeps you from the stress of playing catch-up or finding the next immediately available professional.

It Can Give You a Financial Advantage.

Filing first also takes a more accurate snapshot of your financial situation. In some cases, spouses with financial control will spend money or move it around before filing—as a result, when the divorce occurs, their dependent spouse either must spend time proving their actual financial situation or has to receive less temporary support during the divorce process.

When you file first, it also keeps your spouse from hiding assets. Massachusetts includes an automatic temporary restraining order (ATRO) when divorce papers are served. That prevents both spouses from selling or transferring insurance held for the other spouse, borrowing against your shared property, modifying the beneficiaries of a policy, or destroying assets. Putting a freeze on assets is how you can protect your future—but it only takes effect when your spouse is served papers and no sooner.

It Introduces the Element of Surprise.

Filing first can help prevent documents and household items from disappearing. If you file first, you have the chance even before you file to get all your records, documents, and assets accounted for.

It Can Influence Timing in Your Favor.

Filing for divorce first allows you to dictate, to a certain degree, the order in which the judge considers the issues and hears the evidence. When you file first, you are the plaintiff in the case and will get to speak first. Your spouse, the defendant, will have a chance to respond. You can then reply to your spouse’s response. In essence, filing first gives you the last word in your divorce.

It Can Give You a Sense of Control.

Divorce can be difficult. It can be emotionally draining and expensive, and facing a future without your spouse can be challenging—even if you do not want to be married any longer. Filing first can give you a sense of security and control because you are taking charge and initiating divorce proceedings.

Filing First: Why We Hope for the Best & Prepare for the Worst

When we file for divorce first, we file as a “contested” divorce initially, in case your spouse responds with hostility. It might feel cynical to think strategically about how to end your marriage, but we assure you—this is all precautionary. Perhaps your spouse will be perfectly agreeable, recognize that this is the end of the road, and choose to work out an agreement that’s mutually beneficial. In that case, we would modify the original filing from “contested” to “uncontested.”

In a perfect world, this would be the outcome of every divorce. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect. Our job as attorneys is to protect you from the worst that can happen—we’re not paid to be optimists. That said, we always choose to approach divorces with a collaborative aim initially. After that, the ball is in your spouse’s court.

To sum up, you need to file for divorce first. It protects your assets, secures your future, keeps your spouse honest, and puts you in a stronger position from the start. We hope that whoever files first isn’t an issue with your divorce…but if it is, you and your attorney need to be ready.

Our Massachusetts Divorce Attorneys Can Help You File First

At Miller Law Group, we act with a real sense of urgency; that’s why we like to file for divorce first. Filing first is a proactive move that sends the message that you mean business. Don’t wait until your spouse serves you with divorce papers. Contact us before your spouse does! We represent individuals throughout Massachusetts from offices and meeting locations in Concord, Keene, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. We can help you decide if filing for divorce first is in your best interests.

Call Miller Law Group today for a free consultation.

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