How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce?
The time it takes to get from the beginning to the end of a divorce case varies based on where you live. Each state has slightly different rules for divorce proceedings, some of which include a waiting period. Here's what you need to know about how you can control the time it takes to get your divorce.
Watch: How Long Will My Divorce Take?
Divorce waiting periods
The waiting period after petitioning for divorce can vary from state to state. For instance, in Florida, there's a 20-day waiting period before you can proceed with your dissolution of marriage. Since most divorces take longer than that, it's effectively insignificant. California, however, has a six-month waiting period. For simple divorces, this could mean you're done with all the legalities and just waiting for this time period to elapse.
It's important to note that in many states, there is also a separation requirement, which could mean added time until you get your divorce finalized. A separation requirement mandates that couples live apart for at least a specified amount of time before they can receive their final divorce decree. Once again, this varies by jurisdiction, so check your state laws.
Before you file for divorce, check your state’s residency requirements. Most state’s divorce laws require you to live in the state for a defined period of time before you can begin divorce proceedings.
How your divorce strategy and circumstances impact the timeline
People do not always have control over the timeline of their divorce. As mentioned, a state-mandated waiting period can add months to the divorce process.
Let’s look at California as an example. In that state, a divorce cannot be finalized until six months after filing. Thus, it could take six months or longer to receive your final divorce decree in California. During this time, divorcing couples must go through a number of steps: filing for divorce, coming to an agreement on matters related to spousal support and marital property division, completing court forms, and attending necessary court hearings.
The length of time it takes can also depend on how quickly each party is willing to agree with the other on certain topics, such as asset division and spousal support. If both parties are willing to work together in the negotiation process, these matters can sometimes be resolved more quickly than if they let the court decide. Furthermore, if either party is unwilling to cooperate or provide the necessary information, delays may occur while waiting for responses or additional documentation through a more formal divorce discovery process.
It's important to note that in many states, the location in which you file can add time to your divorce. For example, in New York, there is no official waiting period. However, a divorce in Albany could go quickly while a divorce in Queens could take up to a year. Why? Because the courts are more clogged in Queens, adding time to every case.
After the petitioner files for divorce, they must serve the divorce summons on their spouse. Proof of service is legally required to prove the respondent received proper notice of their spouse’s intentions. This can be accomplished by hiring a professional process server.
A contested divorce in court without a lawyer
If you and your spouse can’t agree on items for your divorce settlement, such as property division, spousal support, or child support, this could stretch out the process for weeks or months and even require a divorce trial. The process of a contested divorce is one in which both parties cannot settle their terms themselves. Instead, they must go to court to have these decisions made.
If your divorce case goes to trial, you may have multiple court appearances, including pretrial hearings, evidentiary hearings, and a final trial. Each court appearance could take days or weeks, depending on the size and complexity of your case. Other events might consume your time along the way, such as a hearing for temporary orders that may involve temporary support, time spent with a child custody evaluator, and more.
Mediation: A possible solution
Divorce mediation is an alternative method that, if successful, can help couples dodge lengthy courtroom battles. During mediation, both parties meet with a neutral third-party mediator who helps them come to an agreement about certain aspects of their divorce. The mediator will guide each party through discussions of important topics such as property division, child custody, and spousal support so they can reach decisions that are fair and mutually beneficial. Mediation allows couples to avoid costly litigation while still getting divorced quickly, since most mediation sessions last just hours instead of days or weeks.
Contested divorce with a lawyer
Hiring a divorce lawyer to help you stay out of court in a contested divorce can be a great way to reduce the time it takes to get a divorce. When you hire a divorce attorney, they can foster mediation between you and your spouse, help create a settlement agreement that both parties can agree on, and negotiate with the other spouse's lawyer on your behalf. This could be the difference between the two of you going to court or being able to settle things outside of court, which could make all the difference in how long it takes for your divorce to go through.
If you can come to an agreement outside of court, this process can be much shorter than litigation. Your lawyer will work closely with you and your spouse's attorney to make sure all factors are taken into consideration and that a fair deal is made for both parties.
If your divorce must go to trial, note that it may take a while to get your trial date, adding to the overall time it takes to get your final divorce decree.
If the two of you are in agreement on items such as property division, child support, and spousal support, you can often get an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce can be a great timesaver, allowing couples to quickly and easily dissolve their marriage. Depending on the state you live in and the circumstances of your divorce, there are two ways to have an uncontested divorce: in person or online.
Having an uncontested divorce in person typically involves filing for a joint divorce petition, then attending a court hearing with both spouses present. At the hearing, the judge will review any paperwork that has been filed and make sure everyone is completely aware of the terms of the settlement agreement. Assuming everything is agreed upon and all documents are signed, the judge will finalize the judgment and issue a decree that legally dissolves your marriage. This process usually takes less than one day to complete.
Online uncontested divorces are also possible, depending on your state’s divorce laws. You may still have to attend a final court hearing with a judge before they sign off on your divorce, but this is generally a quick hearing where they ask a few simple questions. Many states offer online systems that allow couples to file documents, answer questions about their finances and marital situations, and submit them electronically.
Suggested reading: Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: How They Differ
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How Hello Divorce can help
Hello Divorce offers mediation services and Zoom appointments with an attorney at a flat-rate cost. These services help you resolve your situation without going to court or even hiring a lawyer with a retainer. In some cases, you can greatly reduce the amount of time you must spend in court by using our online divorce plans.
For information about state filing fees and service of process policies, read Divorce Filing Process and Rules for Your State.