How Long Does a Divorce Take?
For most couples going through a divorce, one of the first questions they have is “how long will this take?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, as every divorce is unique. The timeline can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case and level of conflict between spouses. However, there are some general time frames and factors that affect how quickly a divorce is finalized.
Factors That Affect the Divorce Timeline
There are several key factors that influence how long the divorce process takes from start to finish:
Simple vs. Contested Divorce
- Simple/uncontested: Spouses agree on key issues like asset division and child custody. Takes 3-6 months on average.
- Contested: Spouses contest issues and must go through litigation and trial. Can take 12-18+ months.
Presence of Children
- Cases with child custody disputes often take longer to resolve. Time is needed to evaluate arrangements.
Division of Assets and Property
- More assets and complicated finances lengthen the discovery and negotiation process.
Spousal Support Agreements
- Negotiating alimony and spousal support terms adds time.
Level of Conflict and Cooperation
- How willing spouses are to compromise and cooperate directly impacts timeline. High conflict equals more time.
Steps in the Divorce Process
To better understand time frames, it helps to look at the key steps in the divorce process:
1. Filing the Petition
One spouse files a summons and petition for dissolution of marriage with the court to start the process. Simple if agreed upon, takes 1-4 weeks if contested.
2. Serving Your Spouse
The petition must be properly served to the other spouse. May take a few weeks to accomplish.
3. Waiting Period
Most states have a 6-12 month waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. Allows for reconciliation.
4. Discovery and Negotiation
Financial documents and property inventories are exchanged. Negotiations happen through attorneys. Can take anywhere from 2-12 months depending on level of disagreement.
5. Court Proceedings
Contested issues may go through mediation, settlement conferences, or trial, which lengthens the timeline by 6-18+ months.
6. Final Judgment
The judge will make final rulings and sign off on the divorce decree and settlement agreements.
How to Expedite the Process
If you want to get divorced more quickly, here are some tips:
- Use a mediator to help you and your spouse negotiate a settlement.
- Limit contested issues by reaching agreements upfront on major issues.
- Have settlement agreements drafted in advance.
- Don’t delay in responding to paperwork demands and court dates.
Typical Divorce Timelines
While every case is different, here are some general time frames:
- With Agreement: 3-6 months
If you and your spouse can come to agreements on most issues, the divorce can take as little as 3-6 months.
- Contested: 12-18+ months
For more complex cases with disputes, expect 12-18 months or longer.
- Highly Contested: 1-3+ years
A small percentage of extremely contentious cases with protracted legal battles can take years to resolve.
There are many variables that determine how quickly a divorce is finalized. Most cases take 6-18 months, while highly contested matters can drag out. Having agreements in place and using mediation from the start tends to expedite the timeline. Working cooperatively as much as possible is key. With realistic expectations, proper legal help, and focus, you can work to conclude your divorce process as efficiently as possible.
What makes a divorce take longer?
Having a large amount of assets, spousal support disputes, child custody disagreements, uncooperative spouses, and taking issues to litigation all add time.
How can I speed up my divorce?
Using a mediator, limiting conflicts, having agreements in place, responding to legal matters promptly, and cooperating can all help expedite the process.
What is the fastest divorce option?
An uncontested, no-fault divorce with all terms agreed to in advance by both spouses takes the least time – typically 3-6 months.
Does it take longer if we have kids?
Yes, resolving child custody and support issues tends to lengthen the timeline, especially if disputed.
What can I do during the waiting period?
Use the mandatory separation period to divide assets, determine budgets, find separate housing, and get your post-divorce life in order.