When a divorce action is in progress, but not completed, a party may ask the court for orders that will be in place until the divorce is concluded. These are Temporary Orders which usually include child support, where the children will live, parenting time, and other like issues. What must be remembered is that Temporary Orders are only temporary and will be ended either when the parties enter into a Separation Agreement, the case is dismissed, or if the court enters a Judgment of Divorce and makes findings after a full trial.
Sometimes, the parties to a divorce agree to one or more issues. An example of a stipulation would be if the custodial parent asked the non-custodial parent for an increase in child support and the non-custodial parent agreed. The two parties would write their agreement as a stipulation and the court would enter it as an order provided the order was fair and reasonable.
When two parties reach an agreement on all the terms of their divorce, they draft what is called a "Separation Agreement." A Separation Agreement covers everything from the division of property to custody of the children, alimony, parenting time, taxes, and any other issue involving a divorce. This Agreement is made by the parties, not the court, and in this way the parties control all aspects of their post-divorce life. The parties then ask the court to enter the agreement as an order of the court, and the court will unless it finds a portion of the Separation Agreement to be unfair and/or unreasonable.
A restraining order is a court order that is intended to provide victims of domestic, physical, or sexual abuse with legal protection by providing criminal and/or monetary penalties for a violation of the order. In Massachusetts, a restraining order is also referred to as a 209A protective order, or abuse prevention order. Restraining orders can be obtained from the District Court, Probate and Family Court, Boston Municipal Court, and Superior Court (except for dating relationships).
A prenuptial agreement is an agreement between two people in anticipation of marriage that deals with the financial consequences of their marriage ending by either death or divorce. While Prenuptial Agreements are a good idea for most couples, couples where one party has more assets or earns more money should seriously consider this avenue. This is also good for couples where one party (or both) is on their second marriage and already has a family to consider; couples where one party has a high amount of debt, or where one party owns his or her own business. Prenuptial Agreements are a very good tool in taking much of the financial uncertainty out of divorce.
In Massachusetts, Contempt is defined as the failure of a party to follow an unambiguous order of the Court. In other words, if the Court has made a ruling, or if the court has entered an agreement of the parties (ie: a stipulation, see below) and if one party fails to follow that clear order, the non-offending party can bring a Complaint for Contempt. Examples of Complaints for Contempt are failure to pay child support; failure to pay alimony; failure to follow an agreed visitation schedule, and failure to cooperate in making decisions for a child (ie: where the child will go to college).
Things change. Sometimes even after the parties have made an agreement, the agreement, at some point in the future, stops making sense. Take for example a divorced couple with two children, and the father is paying significant child support. What happens if the father loses his job? The father could file a modification action and ask to decrease his child support obligation to reflect his new income. Conversely, if the father took a far better job making more money, his ex-spouse could file a Modification Action asking the court to increase the father's obligation. A Modification allows the parties in a divorce to change their agreement to reflect the changing dynamics of their lives.