How Long Does a Divorce Take?

Posted on May 17, 2009 09:18am

Many different factors can speed up or slow down how long it takes to get a divorce. Some of these factors are out of your control. Other factors are in your control.

Factor #1: Mandatory Waiting Periods

Nearly all states have waiting periods before you can complete a divorce.

  • Some states require a period of separation (living apart) before you are allowed to even file for divorce.
  • Most states require a mandatory waiting period between the filing of your divorce petition and when the court will issue your final divorce decree. The average mandatory waiting period is between 30 and 90 days, though some states require up to a 12-month wait.

Each state has various reasons for its mandatory waiting period laws. These reasons include trying to reduce unnecessary divorces (some couples do decide to attempt counseling or even reconcile during the waiting period). They also include providing enough time for divorcing couples with children to become educated on co-parenting and make the proper arrangements to reduce the potential negative impact of the divorce on their kids.

Factor #2: The Amount of Conflict in Your Divorce

The amount of conflict between you and your spouse directly correlates to how long it will take to get a divorce.

If your divorce is uncontested (you agree on all issues), then you typically can finalize your divorce as soon as you have met your state’s waiting period requirements.

If your divorce is contested, meaning that you and your spouse disagree on some or all issues (like property division, child custody, or child support), it can take much longer to finalize a divorce. You will have to, at the very least, work through the issues in negotiation. This can take several months, depending on the issues. And if your conflicts result in the need for trial, then it can take many more months — sometimes over a year — to resolve everything in court.

Factor #3: The Complexity of Your Divorce

Complex divorces often take longer to resolve. If you have serious parenting issues, own a business, have significant assets, or if there are international or interstate issues, it can take a while to sort out the details of your divorce. It might take longer to obtain and prepare all of the information needed to get the full picture of your relationship and what your divorce should look like. You may need expert evaluators, a parenting investigation, medical evaluations, forensic accounting specialists, or other special information.

Speeding Up the Divorce Process

If you would like to speed up the process of finalizing your divorce, there are many ways to do so:

  • Attempt to waive the mandatory waiting period: In some states, you may petition the court to have the mandatory waiting period waived. These tend to be approved only if you are filing for an uncontested divorce.
  • Act early: One of the easiest ways to speed up the divorce process is to be prepared. Gather the information relevant to your divorce (financial documents, parenting information, etc.). Meet with an attorney early in the process to figure out what additional information you will need from your spouse or others in order to have a complete picture of your marriage and divorce. Later, if necessary, you can seek additional information that you need through discovery.
  • Cooperate with the process: Cooperating with your spouse in the lead-up to, and during, the divorce can go a long way toward speeding up the process. Cooperation does not mean that you should simply agree to everything that your spouse is requesting. You probably should not. You should, however, follow deadlines, respond to requests for information, and communicate in a timely manner.When both spouses cooperate during a divorce, there are generally fewer court appearances. When everyone shares information and fully participates in the process, settlement discussions occur sooner and are more effective. This can be especially true in more complex divorce cases where you must gather and analyze a lot of information.
  • Avoid unnecessary conflict: When couples are engaged in a high amount of conflict, there are usually more court appearances, and they are usually not able to come to agreements to narrow the issues. This can drag the process out for many months. Some conflict is often necessary. Do not expect to agree with your spouse on everything immediately. Instead, be guided by common sense and good legal advice regarding what areas to focus on.
  • Try mediation in lieu of trial: If you cannot resolve your case by agreement, through mediation, or through another dispute resolution process, you will have a trial. Trials are often scheduled months or even a year after the petition for divorce is filed. Litigation can also take a long time, especially if a continuance is requested and issued (this is when one or both sides requests a postponement of the trial due to extenuating circumstances).Because waiting for a trial can take months, mediation is often a quicker alternative to going to court. Mediation allows you to meet with a third party to discuss the issues in your case and work toward agreement. The mediator can provide feedback during the mediation to help you evaluate your case and narrow what issues you and your spouse disagree on. Settling the case outside of court through mediation can save both time and money.

However, meditation is not always appropriate, depending on your situation. Be sure to discuss with your divorce lawyer if mediation may be a good option for you.

After You’re Divorced

There may be additional matters to address after you are officially divorced that will extend the time it takes to implement the orders set out in your divorce. These can include, for instance:

  • Directing the division of any retirement plans with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
  • Transferring titles of property.
  • Updating your estate plan and changing the beneficiary designations on your insurance policies.

More Information

Considering divorce? Read our tips on how to find a divorce lawyer.

Please be advised that family law cases can be very complex and are different for everyone, based on unique circumstances. The information provided here should not be construed as legal advice in your case.

McKinley Irvin proudly serves Washington State and Oregon with offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Puyallup, Vancouver and Portland. Contact our family law offices to set up an appointment with a McKinley Irvin family attorney.

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