You’ve been through the arguing, the tears, and the difficult conversations. Now you’ve decided, either alone or together with your spouse, that the marriage can’t be saved, and you’re ready to file for divorce. At this point, you just want it over with. Once it’s official, you’ll be able to move on to the next phase of your life. But when will it be official? How long does a divorce take?
The answer to that question varies. Some divorces are completed within a matter of weeks. Others aren’t completely settled for years. Most take at least a few months. How long your divorce will take depends on a variety of factors, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. Take a look at some of the different factors that can affect the length of the divorce process.
Is There a Waiting Period?
Some states allow for faster divorces than others, so the length of your divorce depends partly on where you live. Some states require a period of separation or a waiting period before you’re legally able to proceed with a divorce. For example, in Tennessee, couples without children must wait 60 days and couples with children must wait 90 days.
In California, all couples must wait six months. In Texas, there’s a minimum waiting period of 60 days, and if the wife is pregnant, a divorce will usually not be granted until after the baby is born – which means that if a woman is two months pregnant when the couple starts the divorce process, it will be at least seven months before the divorce can be finalized.
In some states, there’s a separation requirement, which is different from a waiting or cooling off period. A waiting period is the amount of time that couples must wait before a divorce can be filed or finalized (depending on the state) regardless of whether they’re separated.
A separation period is a period of time that the couple must live apart before the divorce can be filed or finalized (again, depending on the state.) The purpose of both is to give both members of the couple some time to reconsider their options before going through with a divorce.
Is There a Residency Requirement?
If you’ve recently relocated, your state’s residency requirements may also affect how long your divorce will take. Not all states have residency requirements, but if your state does, you’ll need to meet that requirement before proceeding.
Is Your Divorce Fault-Based or No-Fault?
Every state offers the option of a no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce means that neither party is to blame for breaking up the marriage. However, you can also file for a fault-based divorce, meaning that the blame for your divorce does lie with one party. Fault-based divorces can be based on grounds like adultery or cruel treatment.
There are strategic reasons for filing for a fault-based divorce, but they also take longer because you have to prove fault. For this reason, a spouse who doesn’t want a divorce will sometimes file a fault-based divorce in order to slow the process down. If your priority is getting the divorce over with as quickly as possible, a no-fault divorce is the way to go.
Is Your Divorce Contested or Uncontested?
Contesting a divorce doesn’t stop the divorce from going through eventually, but they do make the process drag on longer. If you or your spouse is contesting the divorce, it means that the two of you disagree on something.
Usually the settlement, distribution of assets, or child custody and visitation. The divorce cannot be finalized until you either come to an agreement or until the judge settles the disagreement for you.
Uncontested divorces are faster, and in cases where one party is contesting the divorce, it’s almost always faster for the couple to come to an agreement outside of court than to wait for the whole court proceeding to finish and for a judge to make a ruling. Mediators can be helpful in assisting couples who want to come to a mutually agreeable solution so that they can finalize the divorce and move on.
Is Your Spouse Cooperating?
Sometimes, both parties agree that a divorce is necessary, and both are willing to work together to get things done as swiftly and amicably as possible. When this is the case, a divorce can be over fairly quickly and relatively painlessly as well.
But in other cases, one spouse may not want a divorce or may want to punish the other spouse as much as they can until the divorce is finalized. And when this happens, a divorce can really drag out. There are a lot of things that a vindictive soon-to-be-ex can do to drag out the divorce process:
- They can take steps to avoid being served with divorce papers.
- They can leave town, forcing you to either track them down or publish public notices of your intent to divorce for a period of time before you can proceed.
- They can refuse to negotiate in good faith, making unreasonable demands and refusing to make any concessions, even when you are willing to make some yourself.
- They can hide assets, use stalling tactics, and generally make life unpleasant and difficult.
A disgruntled spouse can’t stop a divorce from taking place, but they can definitely make sure that you’re dealing with it for a long time before the process is finalized.
Does Your Divorce Involve Complicated Issues?
Even if everybody’s cooperating and everything goes well, a divorce involving convoluted financial situations or complex custody issues will take longer than a divorce that doesn’t.
Two people who don’t have children, don’t own any property, and don’t have any valuable assets or much money in the bank can probably complete a divorce more quickly than two people who have several children, various financial and business entanglements, and a lot of assets to divide up and account for. Complex issues simply take more time.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can fill you in on the issues in your area and in your personal situation that can cause a divorce to take longer, and help you figure out a strategy for lessening the amount of time that you have to spend going through the divorce process.